Conservative leader David Cameron is set to return to Downing Street in triumph - after Labour failed to win over Midland voters.
But Britain faces years of uncertainty as the near-collapse of the Liberal Democrats left Mr Cameron with few potential allies in Parliament – while Conservatives are unlikely to have enough MPs to provide a stable government on their own.
An early election exit poll suggested Conservatives may win around 316 seats, short of a majority. As results came in throughout the night, election experts predicted a Tory majority was possible but it would be small at best.
Labour lost ground to the SNP in Scotland but the real surprise of the night was the failure of Ed Miliband’s party to make gains against the Conservatives in England.
For example, Labour failed to win in North Warwickshire, the single most marginal Conservative seat in the country. Tories were defending a majority of just 54, with Labour the challengers, but managed to increase this to 2,973.
And Tories actually made a gain at the expense of Labour, seizing Telford in Shropshire.
Labour failed to take Nuneaton or Halesown in the Black Country, two more West Midlands seats it might have hoped to win from the Tories.
Another dramatic development was the near collapse of the Liberal Democrats, who looked set to pay a heavy price for joining the Coalition government.
The exit poll, a survey of voters carried out by TV broadcasters, suggested the Liberal Democrats could win as few as 10 seats, compared to the 57 they won in 2010.
John Hemming, the defending Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, said he believed he had lost the seat to Labour candidate Jess Phillips.
Mr Hemming insisted he will be back in future, saying: “I will rise from the political grave.”
The exit poll suggested Liberal Democrats were likely to lose Solihull to the Conservatives, as the votes continued to be counted into the morning.
High profile scalps included former Lib Dem Deputy leader Simon Hughes, who lost his seat to Labour, and Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Business Secretary, who lost his seat to the Tories.
Nick Clegg dropped a heavy hint that he would resign the party leadership, in a speech after it was confirmed that he had managed to keep his own seat of Sheffield Hallam.
Former Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron admited: “I’m not going to claim it’s a good night for the Liberal Democrats. This is going to be a tough set of results for us”.
Labour peer Lord Mandelson insisted: “What seems to have happened is that all the three main parties have lost this election.
“Some have lost it more than others – the Lib Dems in particular – but we seem to be heading to an outcome in which no party has achieved a majority.”
SNP politician Alex Salmond insisted: “There’s going to be a lion roaring tonight, a Scottish lion, and it’s going to roar with a voice that no government of whatever political complexion is going to be able to ignore. I think it’s going to be a resounding voice, a clear voice, a united voice from Scotland, and I think that is a very good thing.”
Labour figures rallied around party leader Ed Miliband, with Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint insisting: “Ed has been a fantastic leader, he is a fantastic leader.”
But the result means that he will almost certainly have to stand down as leader, with bookies offering odds that he may not last the day.
Mr Cameron’s backbenchers will expect him to keep his promise to hold a referendum on quitting the European Union – a prospect that will concern many employers.
And the scale of the SNP success in Scotland, where the nationalists made massive gains, raises questions about the future of the United Kingdom.
Labour faced wipeout in Scotland. Casualties included Douglas Alexander, Labour’s general election campaign co-ordinator, and Jim Murphy, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, who both lost their seats to the SNP.
And the SNP even won Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, which had been represented by former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who stood down at this election.