The Crusaders claimed a seventh straight title with a 25-20 win over the Chiefs in the Super Rugby Pacific final on Saturday on coach Scott Robertson's swansong.
The Chiefs led 20-15 early in the second half, but the Crusaders fought back with Codie Taylor grabbing a converted try before Richie Mo'unga slotted a late penalty.
This was Robertson's final match with the Crusaders before leaving to coach the All Blacks following the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off in September.
Under his stewardship, the Christchurch-based franchise has won a perfect set of seven consecutive titles since 2017.
"I'm just really proud," an emotional Robertson said of the victory. "We kept pushing them back on defence."
The match turned in the 72nd minute when Chiefs co-skipper and All Blacks captain Sam Cane was shown a yellow card.
From the resulting penalty, test veteran Taylor was driven across for his 42nd career try, setting the record for the most tries by a forward in Super Rugby.
Roared on by their home crowd, the Chiefs' best chance of victory was a missed long-range penalty attempt from fly-half Damian McKenzie.
Mo'unga rounded out the scoring with a penalty after the final hooter, sparking emotional scenes among a Crusaders side who were missing seven All Blacks through injury.
Taylor, who scored two tries on the night, said the players were motivated to win for their departing personnel including Mo'unga and Sam Whitelock.
"I'm lost for words, just so proud of the effort," Taylor told Sky Sport.
"I can't get the fact out of my head that the boys are leaving and how much it means to them. It's special. All the boys leaving really stood up tonight.
"Can't take anything from the Chiefs, they threw everything at us. We just managed to hang in there."
It was a heartbreaking result for the Chiefs, who appeared to have the firepower to end a decade-long title drought after dropping only one game in the regular season.
Two long-serving Chiefs players – All Blacks Brodie Retallick and Brad Weber – were playing their last game before heading overseas.
The Crusaders led 15-10 at halftime but the margin could have been greater after they dominated possession, helped by the Chiefs' ill discipline.
The home side were forced to play with 14 men for two 10-minute periods following yellow cards for All Blacks Anton Lienert-Brown and Luke Jacobson before Cane was also sin-binned.
"We nearly got there," said Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan.
"It felt like we created enough to win despite those three yellow cards – you can't fault the Crusaders."
Weber also lamented the home side's lack of discipline.
"It sucks, this crowd deserved to see us win tonight and jeez, if we had done it with 14 men for 30 minutes it would have been a hell of a story to tell," he said.
"To come up just short... it's devastating."