Nicolas Sarkozy's defeat on Sunday marked the end of a five-year presidency during which he divided a France that had put its hopes in him to break with a history of timid government complacency.
Never has a French president been so disliked, as much for his personal style as for his austere deficit-busting policies, and the right-wing leader vowed months ago to quit politics if defeated.
"You'll see a big surprise," an optimistic Sarkozy declared on Friday at the end of a ferocious campaign that saw him repeatedly apologise for his perceived flashy presidential style.
A one-on-one televised debate on Wednesday was seen by many as his last chance to catch up with Hollande, when the Socialist impressed by remaining calm while Sarkozy surprised no one by lashing out at his rival as a "liar".
When he was first elected in 2007, after 12 years of president Jacques Chirac's dithering, many were ready to forgive Sarkozy's brutal side, in the hope his relentless energy would serve France well in an age of globalisation.
Five years later, after promises of wealth and job creation proved a mirage, Sarkozy's aggression grated too much and his relationship with the electorate irreparably broke down.
At 57, Nicolas Sarkozy de Nagy-Bosca retained the boundless ambition that drove the son of a Hungarian immigrant, with no ties to the Paris elite or the provincial bourgeoisie that dominate politics, to the presidency.
An activist at 19, a town mayor at 28, lawmaker at 34 and minister at 38, Sarkozy won the presidency at 52, and his time in office remained as busy in his personal life as it was in politics.
He divorced his second wife after a tumultuous struggle to woo her back from her lover, then married supermodel and singer Carla Bruni and had a daughter with her.
At the height of his powers, he was the most popular president since General Charles de Gaulle.
"I have no right to disappoint," he said. But disappoint he did. First with his overbearing manner and then through his actions.
The first faux pas came on the very evening of his election, when he feted his victory in fine style in the glitzy Paris eatery Fouquet's with some of France's richest people, setting the seal on an image of tasteless excess.
One of his worst decisions was to allow his son Jean, a 23-year-old local councillor who had not yet graduated college, to try to take charge of the powerful public development agency in the La Defense business district.
He also struggled with the 2008 credit crunch and the subsequent financial crises.
Sarkozy tried to rise to the occasion as a global statesman, staging crisis summit after crisis summit, but his high-rolling Rolex and Ray-Ban image sat ill with an age of austerity, and French voters turned their backs on him.
"The most important factor is the way in which he vulgarised politics and lowered the status of the presidential office for his own ends," said political scientist Stephane Rozes of the Cap Institute.
Chirac was never happier than when greeting farmers, tasting food and admiring prize cattle at the Paris agricultural show. Sarkozy was famously filmed there telling a grumpy bystander: "Get stuffed, you stupid bastard."
His supporters point to the reforms that he managed to push past a dubious parliament and public -- an unpopular increase in the retirement age from 60 to 62 and a measure to ensure the independence of universities.
He had an impact on the international stage, helping negotiate an end to Russia's drive into Georgia and leading the NATO intervention that helped Libyan rebels topple Moamer Kadhafi.
Those most disappointed are those who believed in his slogan "work more to earn more" -- unemployment is approaching 10 percent and he did not live up to his promises to tackle tax loopholes and discrimination.
He shocked some by pushing far-right themes, increasingly so between the April 22 first round presidential election and the run-off as he sought to claw back votes from the National Front.
He linked crime to immigration, expelled EU citizens of Roma descent and launched a debate on the threat Islam supposedly poses to French national identity.