The Africans were just minutes from achieving their aim of going through to the second round when a controversial call gave opponents Greece a stoppage-time penalty which Giorgos Samaras converted to put the European side through with a 2-1 win.
Ivory Coast needed only a draw in Fortaleza to advance for the first time in their third successive World Cup appearance and at long last confirm the potential of their star-studded squad.
But instead they head home crest-fallen once again.
"The end result is cruel even if the Greeks deserved this victory," coach Sabri Lamouchi said.
"We could have had the match stopped one minute earlier. We saw that everything is in the details. It's very tough, very hard. There's a lot of disappointment and frustration for me. The whole squad made a lot of effort,"
Not only did the tournament in Brazil offer the chance for the Ivorians to write history, it also offered redemption after several disappointing tournaments previously.
Since 2006, they have been the overwhelming favourites at successive African Nations Cup finals but never been able to lift the title.
They lost on penalties in the 2006 and 2012 finals and were dumped out in the knockout round in 2008, 2010 and last year.
It has earned the Ivorians the moniker of 'chokers' across the continent for their perceived propensity to fail within sight of victory.
But there was little sign of timidness in their performance on Tuesday as they came from behind to level with just over a quarter-hour to go and looked to be on their way to a piece of history before calamity struck.
The draw for the 2014 World Cup had contrasted with tough pairings at their maiden World Cup in 2006 and again in South Africa four years ago.
Everything looked to be set for a change in fortune as key players overcame injury in time for the Elephants to beat Japan in their first game, lose narrowly 2-1 to Colombia in their second and need just a point on Tuesday to advance.
"Everything is in the details. We saw that against Colombia, we saw that today with Greece. We needed balance on both the defensive and attacking sides," added Lamouchi.
Disappointment in Brazil could persuade the likes of Didier Drogba, Kolo and Yaya Toure and Didier Zokora to stay on for just one last tilt at glory - at the 2015 African Nations Cup in Morocco in some six months from now.
"There are six players who've played three World Cups and four who've played twice. I'm very sad for all of those who made a lot of effort...They worked a lot and have no reason to quit," said Lamouchi, who will not be there as his contract is not being renewed.