Rain arrived half an hour after bad light stopped play, with the unlucky tourists stranded on 172/7.
Manchester: England moved to the cusp of a third straight series win over Ashes rival Australia - and it has the inclement Manchester weather to thank.
Australia built a lead of 331 runs on Sunday and were weighing up when to declare their second innings when bad light stopped play 37 minutes into the final session on day four.
Rain arrived around half an hour later and no more play was possible, with the unlucky tourists stranded on 172/7.
Australia captain Michael Clarke protested, his coach Darren Lehmann shook his head on the dressing-room balcony. Spectators booed the umpires.
In fact, the only people smiling were England's players. They just need to bat through Monday - which is also forecast to be hit by bad weather - to retain the urn.
It would be an unsatisfactory way to wrap up the series but the English won't care a jot, not after the pain they endured at the hands of their oldest rivals in the miserable 1990s and the start of this century.
"We'd be more than happy," said England wicketkeeper Matt Prior, when asked if he would welcome rain all day on Monday. "If it did, then great. But the forecasts in England are pretty good at being wrong and it would be very dangerous for us to rely on rain or forecasts going into tomorrow."
The Australians will be cursing their luck. Not a single minute of play had been lost in the series up until Sunday and, having gained the upper hand for the first time this summer, they are facing a frustrating end through no fault of their own.
"It's a bit disappointing," said Australia batsman David Warner, who was his team's top scorer with 41. "We knew there was going to be weather settling in at some stage and hopefully it holds off for tomorrow and we can come out and take all the wickets that we can."
Clarke was 30 not out and Ryan Harris on 0 when umpires called an end to the day, with the stands half-deserted and the spectators who had hung around huddled under umbrellas.
Stuart Broad's belligerent 32 earlier helped England avoid the follow-on before being dismissed for 368, leaving the team 159 runs behind.
Resuming on 294-7, Broad and Prior (30) took just 45 balls to get the 34 runs required to pass the follow-on mark and their stand reached 58 before Broad edged Nathan Lyon to wicketkeeper Haddin.
Australia was glad to see the back of Broad, who had smashed three boundaries off four balls from Ryan Harris to remind observers that he started out as a batsman at school.
The highlight of a cameo from Graeme Swann (11) was a straight drive for six off Lyon before he edged Peter Siddle to Haddin in his first over, giving the wicketkeeper his fifth catch of the innings. Prior hung around with No. 11 James Anderson before skying an attempted pull off Siddle, with Warner taking the catch.
Anderson was left stranded on 3 not out.
Broad returned to his day job to entice a nick behind from Chris Rogers as Australia went to lunch on 24/1 - with a lead of 183.
Building a lead at speed was a priority in the second session and although they lost wickets at regular intervals, they went at more than 4.5 runs an over.
Warner, promoted up the order to his customary place as opener, survived a DRS call for an edge behind off Broad before hooking a delivery by Tim Bresnan straight to a diving Joe Root, the man the Australian punched in a late-night bar-room incident in June to earn a suspension and fine.
Usman Khawaja was bowled round his legs by Swann for 24 and Shane Watson sent an uppercut shot off Bresnan straight to Kevin Pietersen at third man for 18.
Steve Smith, Haddin and Mitchell Starc were also dismissed before bad light and rain arrived.