Saints were eventually overpowered by Montpellier as their Champions Cup campaign ended with a 26-17 defeat at the Altrad Stadium on Friday night.
Jim Mallinder’s men had looked set to shock their hosts when George North thought he had scored early in the second half.
But the effort was disallowed, with Ahsee Tuala, who had offloaded to North, deemed to be in touch, and Montpellier turned on the power to fight back and earn the win.
Nemani Nadolo was the tormentor-in-chief as he set up the French side’s first try for Kélian Galletier before bulldozing his way through five Saints players to score a second.
Jacques Du Plessis added a third and Nadolo fittingly had the final say for Montpellier, leaving Saints on the bottom of Pool 4 at the conclusion of the group stages.
Mallinder’s men had threatened to leapfrog Montpellier in the standings when they headed in at half-time 10-7 up.
Lee Dickson showed his sharpness to finish a fine team move and JJ Hanrahan added five points with the boot.
But after North’s score was disallowed, it was one-way traffic in the opposite direction as the Top 14 giants secured a bonus-point win.
Saints competed well in the early stages of the game, but they were undone by a moment of magic from Nadolo.
The gargantuan Fiji wing bulldozed his way through Juan Pablo Estelles and offloaded superbly to Galletier, who flew down the left in support and ran in for the score.
Demetri Catrakilis landed the conversion to make it 7-0 with 10 minutes played and Joe Tomane threatened to make things worse as he skipped past several Saints challenges.
Saints did eventually shut the door and they were doing more good defending soon after, managing to hold up a big Montpellier maul.
The away side eventually relieved the pressure by winning a timely scrum penalty and they were to score a stunning try on the half-hour mark.
Excellent play from Ethan Waller proved key as the prop carried at speed and offloaded to Ben Nutley, who found scrum-half Dickson to score.
It was an intelligent piece of play from Dickson, who noticed there was a gap and dived over.
Hanrahan converted to level the scores at 7-7 and the fly-half was soon adding a penalty to his team’s tally, giving them the lead for the first time in the game.
And Saints thought they had extended their lead five minutes into the second half as a stunning team move culminated in Tuala offloading to North.
But after initially awarding the score, referee John Lacey discussed it with his TMO, and the try was ruled out.
And that agony was to be accentuated soon after as Saints failed to deal with Nadolo, who ran through five attempted tackles to score.
Catrakilis converted well from out wide and Saints, having been so good for a prolonged period, found themselves behind.
And it was to get worse when Montpellier set up a lineout drive and pushed replacement Du Plessis over the line.
Montpellier were hunting a fourth try for the bonus point they craved in their pursuit of a place in the quarter-finals.
And they were to get it when Nadolo burst through yet again, diving over out wide.
Saints did manage to respond before the end as Tom Kessell showed good hands and acceleration to burst through a gap and score.
Hanrahan converted to cut the gap to nine points, but the game was over as a contest and Montpellier celebrated their Nadolo-inspired success.
Montpellier: Michel; Nagusa, Tomane (Immelman 68), Dumoulin (Martin 20), Nadolo; Catrakilis, White (O’Leary 74); Nariashvili (Watremaz 52), Geli, Jannie Du Plessis (Guillamon 52); Willemse (Battut 68), Mikautadze (Jacques Du Plessis 52); Ouedraogo (c), Galletier, Qera.
Saints: Tuala; Estelles (K Pisi 58), Tuitavake, Mallinder, North; Hanrahan, Dickson (c) (Kessell 58); E Waller (Beesley 68), Clare (Fish 58), Hill (Brookes 58); Ratuniyarawa (Ludlam 65), Craig (Haywood 74); Paterson, Nutley, Harrison.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)