England's hopes of saving the third Test and retaining the Ashes at the earliest opportunity were boosted when bad light and rain ended the fourth day's play almost two hours early.
Scoring quickly as they pushed towards a declaration at Old Trafford, Australia had reached 172-7 in their second innings - a lead of 331 - when the umpires took the players off to the obvious dismay of Australia captain Michael Clarke.
Jonathan AgnewBBC cricket correspondent
"There are differences to playing with a red ball under floodlights rather than a white one, but you have to get on with it. There is no-one bowling in this match who is dangerous - it is not like playing against West Indies in the 1980s."
Half an hour later, persistent rain began to fall, ending any hope of a resumption.
Australia, who have outplayed England for most of the match, may now be at the mercy of Monday's Manchester weather as they seek a victory that would reduce England's series lead to 2-1 with two Tests to play.
The intervention of the weather increased the likelihood that Australia will declare overnight, and leave England the task of batting out the final day.
However, with heavy rain forecast for most of the day, England appear likely to secure the draw that would ensure they retain the Ashes urn.
The hosts, victors in the first two Tests at Trent Bridge and Lord's, had earlier avoided the follow-on as they were bowled out for 368 in reply to Australia's 527-7 declared.
Leading by 159, Australia promoted the fast-scoring David Warner to the top of the order at the expense of Shane Watson to assist their drive for quick runs.
Chris Rogers set a bullish tone when he pulled Stuart Broad for an early four but had only scored 12 when he tried to guide the ball down to third man and was caught by a diving Matt Prior.
Warner also took on the short ball to score 41 off 57 balls before being taken at deep square leg off Tim Bresnan. The irony that Joe Root - the victim of Warner's infamous punch in a Birmingham bar - took the catch was not lost lost on the Old Trafford crowd.
Usman Khawaja was bowled round his legs by Graeme Swann for 24 and Watson guided an uppercut straight to Kevin Pietersen at third man for 18.
Warner respects Umpires decision
Steve Smith was run out for 19 after a mix-up with Clarke before Brad Haddin and Mitchell Starc served up easy catches as they looked to accelerate the scoring.
With the sky darkening following a short shower at tea, the umpires began to look twitchy and were repeatedly asked by England's fielders whether they should stop for bad light.
When England captain Alastair Cook declined a request to bowl his spinners from both ends, the officials took the decision to take the players off in the interests of safety.
Clarke, unbeaten on 30 at the time, remonstrated with the umpires before traipsing off shaking his head.
The crowd also voiced their displeasure at the sudden curtailment of an intriguing match, but any controversy over the decision was diluted when heavy rain began to fall, eventually causing play to be abandoned with 32 overs remaining in the day.
Michael VaughanEx-England captain & Test Match Special summariser
"England wouldn't have wanted to bat against the new ball, but if Australia were willing to face Broad and Anderson in that light, they should have been allowed to. Cricket doesn't do itself any favours at times like that."
England required just 25 minutes on Sunday morning to score the 34 runs they needed to avoid the follow-on as Prior and Stuart Broad took advantage of some wayward bowling from Ryan Harris.
Broad had struck seven fours from a mixture of thick edges and powerful drives to make 32 when he nicked Nathan Lyon to wicketkeeper Haddin.
Broad, whose decision not to walk when umpire Aleem Dar failed to spot a thick edge to slip caused much contention at Trent Bridge, began his walk to the pavilion before the umpire had given him out.
Peter Siddle then had Swann caught off an inside edge and Prior via a top-edged pull to finish with figures of 4-63.
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