A surprise result saw Phillip Rösler's Free Democrats (FDP) rise from the dead to defy predictions they would fail to clear the five percent parliamentary representation hurdle, grabbing thousands of conservative votes to reach nearly ten percent.
But David McAllister's Christian Democrats dropped several points to end on 36 percent, meaning he and the FDP failed by one seat to remain in office.
Stephan Weil's Social Democrats, who in combination with the Greens will now form the next Lower Saxony state government, will be desperate to convert this into national momentum ahead of September's election.
The Münchner Merkur compared the FDP with a rescued bank. "The FDP is system-relevant for the capability of the middle-class camp to create a majority, and those who are relevant to the system will be rescued at any cost. It cost the CDU in Lower Saxony nearly a fifth of their votes and the post-election shock is not going to be small.
"If FDP leader Rösler has retained even a little sense of reality, he will see that this borrowed strength cannot replace policy-based powers of conviction. He should use this success to resign with dignity.
"There will be no better opportunity. To continue to muddle along as before and to depend on borrowed votes from the union would be to fundamentally misunderstand the Hannover signals. The FDP lives dangerously as a zombie party dependant on Merkel's mercy."
The Leipziger Volkszeitung was similarly harsh about Rösler's future prospects. "The FDP portrays itself as victor within the black-yellow camp. But why? The party is perhaps just a facade with a chairman who, until yesterday, most of his own people no longer wanted to see. What kind of political victory logic is that? Rösler can continue because the CDU clicked their fingers and promptly a lot of their regular voters put their cross by the Liberals rather than the Christian Democrats.
"Politics becomes discounted sales goods. Together the Union and FPD got 45 to 46 percent. That is only enough to get power in exceptional cases. The Union leadership under Angela Merkel has not, in the last few years, managed to claim additional regions. That will be felt at some point."
The Frankfurter Rundschau said, "As in 2012 in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, those who still see the FDP as a liberal party, and the borrowed support from many CDU voters made for a sensational comeback.
"Philipp Rösler proved himself as a man with nerves of steel and capable of getting up off the floor, and will continue to lead his comeback party. The smiles on the men who wanted to chase out Rösler as they got rid of Guido Westerwelle before him seemed to lose their shine on voting day."
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück would suffer as a result of the outcome, even though his party will lead the new Lower Saxony government.
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"The crowning of Steinbrück as chancellor candidate not only failed to give the election campaign a boost - he hangs around the neck of the SPD like a millstone, and that at a time in which the national political mood is more favourable to Chancellor Merkel and the Union parties than it has been for years.
"At the same time many potential CDU voters have understood what the failure of the FDP to clear the five percent parliamentary representation hurdle would mean for the chances of the CDU holding onto power in Hannover - and the swap of votes within this camp was the result."