A proud run of 55 season in Germany's top flight came to an ugly end as Hamburg fans set off a flurry of fireworks, releasing a cloud of black smoke across the Volksparkstadion, forcing play to be suspended just minutes from time.
“This is an enormously painful moment for everyone at the club, which has lost one of its defining characteristics,” said Hamburg president Bernd Hoffmann.
The six-time German champions, who won the European Cup in 1983, are the only team to have played in every Bundesliga season since the league's inauguration in 1963, earning them the nickname “dinosaur”.
Although Hamburg battled to victory over Mönchengladbach, they were doomed to relegation as Wolfsburg thrashed Cologne to finish third from bottom. Wolfsburg will go into a relegation playoff with Holstein Kiel, who finished third in Germany's second tier.
The day started disastrously for Hamburg, as Joshua Guilavogui fired Wolfsburg ahead in the opening minute against Cologne.
In Hamburg, Aaron Hunt put the home side in front before Josip Drmic equalised for 'Gladbach.
Jonas Hector brought Cologne level just after the half-hour mark with an exquisite chip, but Divock Origi, on loan from Liverpool, restored the lead for Wolfsburg and edged Hamburg closer to disaster.
Lewis Holtby's curling strike kept Hamburg's hopes alive, but when Robin Knoche headed in Wolfsburg's third, and when Josip Brekalo added a fourth in stoppage time, Hamburg's fate was sealed.
After a 15-minute delay due to crowd trouble, the game briefly resumed. The famous digital clock in the Volksparkstadion, which displays how long the club have been in the top flight, must now finally be switched off.
The Volksparkstadion clock on March 17th. Photo: DPA
“I am so disappointed,” said Hamburg coach Christian Titz. “I was convinced that we could win the game today, and that it would be enough to stay up. The team and most of the fans gave us a worthy send-off from the top flight.”