Christian Schenk led a 1-2 East German finish in the decathlon, while world record-holder Daley Thompson missed his third Olympic medal by 22 points after completing the last three events injured.
Dave Steen of Canada beat Thompson for the bronze with a fast 1,500-meters race, the last event of the 2-day, 10-discipline event, the most difficult in track and field.
Steen's unexpected bronze lifted the spirits of the Canadian team, rocked by Ben Johnson's disqualification after the sprinter tested positive for steroids.
Schenk, a 23-year-old medical student, gave East Germany its first Olympic decathlon title, getting 8,488 points. Fellow East German Torsten Voss, the world champion, got 8,399 for the silver.
Steen jumped from eighth to third place with a strong 1,500 race and finished with 8,328 points.
Thompson, who injured his left thigh and right hand when his pole snapped in the pole vault, the eighth event, had 8,306 points.
The 30-year-old Briton, the world record-holder at 8,847 points, missed his chance to become the first man to win three Olympic decathlon medals. He was the champion in 1980 and 1984, only the second man to repeat as gold medalist in the most difficult track and field event.
Thompson was third as the decathlon came to a thrilling finish in the 1,500. But running with a heavily bandaged thigh, he finished well behind the leaders in a slow time of 4:45.11 that was worth only 648 points.
Never a quitter, Thompson vowed to be back.
"I am going to continue, I reckon, at least for another two or three years," he said. "They are still not better than me. It does not matter what they score."
Thompson's valiant effort brought him cheers from about 200 British fans, who stayed through 13 hours of second-day action to support the popular athlete.
It was only his second defeat since 1978. He finished ninth in last year's world championships, also competing injured.
The second day of the decathlon began at 8:20 a.m. and ended at 9:20 p.m. There were few people at the stadium to see the dramatic finish.
The athletes were also cheered by Korean children waiting for the decathlon to finish so they could start rehearsing for closing ceremonies.
During the 1,500 meters, stadium workers released an insecticide gas to kill mosquitoes that infest the area, near the Han River. There was no cloud on the track, but the smell was striking.
Schenk took the lead after the third event, the high jump. He cleared 7 feet 5 1/4 inches for an Olympic decathlon high jump record.
Schenk lost the lead briefly as the second day began with the high hurdles, but immediately regained it in the discus.
American Tim Bright set an Olympic and world record for the decathlon pole vault by clearing 18-8 1/4. He was fourth going into the 1,500, but faded in the race and ended up seventh.