Jos Buttler provided a devastating reminder of what England have been missing over the past couple of years as he topped off a performance worthy of world champions with career-best international figures.
England appeared to be careering to an embarrassing defeat in a city famous for its Big Hole but Jos Buttler and Dawid Malan helped them clamber out of one of their own with twin hundreds laced with defiance and destruction.
Coming together at 14 for three in the sixth over, they went through the gears seamlessly and by the time they reached 106-ball hundreds apiece in the same over, the 39th of the innings, England had their foot to the floor.
The 232-run stand was the biggest ever for an England pair against South Africa in one-day internationals, and gave an attack featuring Sussex fast bowler Archer at its helm enough runs to play with on a ground that historically favours chasing - 11 of the previous 14 ODIs were won by teams batting second.
England had gone into the final match of the series facing the prospect of being consigned to a whitewash and six consecutive defeats for the first time since 2009.
Captain Jos Buttler scored a superb century as England beat South Africa by 59 runs
That looked to be on the cards as they crawled out of the blocks at two an over in the opening powerplay but Buttler and Malan combined for 13 of England’s 19 sixes - the most in a one-day international innings in South Africa - to instigate one of the most dramatic turnarounds in memory.
In all, an astonishing 217 runs came from the final 20 overs, providing the chance for Archer to reprise his ferocious best, less than a week after marking his comeback from a 22-month injury hell of stress fractures to his elbow and back by returning 10-0-81-1, the worst analysis of his 50-over international career to date.
This time, Buttler neglected thew chance to throw the new ball to the fast bowling star of the 2019 World Cup, holding back his 90-mile-per-hour pace for later in the innings.
Entering the attack as first change for the eighth over, his speeds were considerably faster than last Friday’s display, leading to wickets in each three of his spells and an overall return of six for 40.
‘My first priority was to win the game, and anything else would come after. Some days everything you touch turns to gold and this was mine, to be honest,’ Archer said.
‘But this is just a small tick. It’s the start of the road. It’s a long year and there’s a lot to look forward to.'
Clearly unsettled by such hostility, Rassie van der Dussen poked to point to provide Archer with a first wicket, and England with a second, in the 12th over of the innings.
South Africa were 62 for two at that stage, but it was his interventions in two subsequent bursts from the northern end of the Diamond Oval that checked momentum when England’s opponents were on top.
Returning for the 26th over, Aiden Markram towered his fourth ball to midwicket, and when David Miller edged behind from the first delivery of the next over, the hosts were 174 for five.
Buttler made 131 and Dawid Malan scored 118 as England recovered from 14-3 to reach 346-7
It was arguably his third spell that was most impressive, however, coming as it did after a counter-attack from Heinrich Klaasen and Wayne Parnell for the seventh wicket that reduced the equation for victory to 73 off 11 overs.
He dismissed both - either side of Adil Rashid snaring a third wicket, Sisanda Magala caught behind - to provide the result with inevitability.
Klaasen was suckered by a slower ball bouncer, and with just the tail for company, Parnell’s defences were burst by pace at the other end of the spectrum, before last man Tabraiz Shamsi was castled to seal the 59-run success.
Earlier, Buttler and Malan both played with ice in their veins despite the searing heat of the Northern Cape, coming together following Lungi Ngidi’s triple strike with the new ball.
Buttler found the going tough initially, taking 14 deliveries to get off the mark and avoiding a run out while still in figures by a single camera frame. However, once past Kevin Pietersen’s tally of 4422 runs and into sixth place in England’s leading one-day run scorers, via a leg-side flick to the boundary off Magala that took him into the 20s, he didn’t look back.
Buttler and Malan 118 shared 232 for the fourth wicket - England's fourth-highest ODI stand
It was Buttler who upped the tempo initially but Malan’s spectacular explosion, exploiting the ground’s dimensions to hit multiple straight sixes, saw him overtake his captain and reach three figures first.
Even after South Africa separated the fourth-wicket duo, there was no respite as Moeen Ali took advantage of an increasingly ragged performance from the home attack to clear the ropes four times, twice in consecutive Ngidi deliveries, in a cameo of 41 off 23.
He did not make contact with his most innovative stroke - a one-handed reverse swish - but this was a day about England’s hits rather than their misses.
South Africa were bowled out for 287, with fast bowler Jofra Archer taking six wickets
Moeen Ali attempted an ambitious one-handed switch hit against South Africa in the final ODI
Ali followed off his attempted trick shot by smashing the ball for six on Wednesday