Northamptonshire are still involved in a battle with Worcestershire at New Road despite already securing promotion to the Championship top flight.
After falling a point short of completing the job for themselves after their dismissal for 202, Northants were confirmed in the runners-up position three hours later when news came through of Essex's fate at Southampton.
Northamptonshire were in the field at Worcester when a ripple of applause around the ground prompted celebratory hugs between the players - and then it was back to the business of trying to sign off the season with a victory.
Worcestershire, having kept the first-innings deficit down to 39, were not in the mood to make things easy for them as they closed on 155-3, a lead of 116.
Daryl Mitchell was dropped twice in reaching 47 and it was two-and-a-quarter hours before he was finally dislodged when trying to turn a ball from James Middlebrook off his pads after a stand of 77 with Matt Pardoe (38).
The day ended with a flourish from Moeen Ali as an unbeaten 40 took him to 1,371 runs, the most in this season's championship.
Earlier, Alan Richardson completed his 14th five-wicket return in the championship in four summers with Worcestershire.
Andrew Hall (20) nicked to first slip, Matt Spriegel (two) did not offer a shot and Steven Crook (eight) played round a straight ball. This gave the tireless Richardson a full return of 5-70 and now 68 championship wickets for the season.
Yet Northamptonshire stayed in contention while the impressive Rob Keogh was compiling a valuable half-century, but after reaching 200 the innings came to an abrupt and calamitous closure.
David Murphy, having contributed 18 to a stand of 45, refused a single when Keogh, on 57, played to the ball to wide mid-on and Richardson's swift return to the wicketkeeper left Northants' top scorer stranded at the wrong end.
Murphy was then last out, top edging a reverse sweep off Moeen Ali.
Yet this passage became irrelevant when Northamptonshire added promotion to the Friends Life t20 trophy and put the seal on an astonishing transformation under coach David Ripley and championship captain Stephen Peters.
One of the best seasons in their history has come a year after they were second from bottom in the championship and won only two games in limited overs competitions.