A Conservative MP became visibly upset as the Tories lost a comfortable majority at Chelmsford City Council to the Liberal Democrats.
It topped off a bad night in Essex for the Tories as they lost control of four other councils and saw their majority slashed at a third.
The biggest shock was the loss of Uttlesford to a residents' association.
In Chelmsford, MP Vicky Ford said national frustration with Brexit had hit the party's vote locally.
However, the Tories managed to retain control of six Essex councils.
All 57 seat in Chelmsford were up for grabs on Thursday's poll, and the Liberal Democrats gained 26, mostly at the expense of the Conservatives who lost 31.
Independent candidates won five seats.
At the Chelmsford count, Ms Ford became emotional as she reflected on "a very disappointing night".
"I think it is really disappointing when you look at some of the individuals who have lost their seats tonight - people who have worked their socks off for Chelmsford," she said.
"They have lost their seats as a result of what is happening nationally reflecting back in people not wanting to turn out and vote locally."
Essex Tory losses:
- Basildon Council, Tendring District Council and Southend Borough Council went to no overall control as the Tories lost seats
- Maldon District Council saw a 25-seat majority slashed to just three by gains from independents
- In Tory target council Colchester, their local group leader lost his seat to the Greens
- They lost control of Chelmsford City Council to the Liberal Democrats, where they had held a 45-seat majority
- The Tories retained control of Castle Point, Rochford, Braintree, Epping, Maldon and Brentwood Councils
Colchester Borough Council was in the spotlight before the elections with a coalition of Liberal Democrats, Labour and independents holding a slim majority over the Conservatives.
The Tories lost two seats, including leader Darius Laws, who was beaten by Green Mark Goacher.
Mr Laws said Brexit was partly to blame for the poor showing.
He said: "Brexit definitely is a contributing factor but perhaps some bigger national newspapers have wanted it to be a bigger issue [than it was].
"It came up on the doorstep but people almost just shrugged their shoulders on it.
"I am naturally disappointed, I think I have been a competent councillor and have done some different things and taken different approaches.
"The national mood hasn't helped."
In Clacton, Tendring District Council's count was delayed after 1,000 postal votes arrived on the day with 200 having inadvertently been sent to Chelmsford.
The votes were sent on by express delivery and were counted.
The Conservatives lost their majority at the authority, which is now under no overall control.
Two seats are still up for grabs in St Osyth with the vote delayed until 23 May due to a candidate's death.
UKIP has lost seats in two of its strongholds.
The Clacton constituency was the first to elect a UKIP MP in 2014 when sitting Conservative MP Douglas Carswell defected, stood down and won the subsequent by-election.
He retained the seat in the 2015 General Election, but lost it to the Conservatives in the 2017 General Election.
At Tendring District Council, UKIP had 19 councillors in 2015. They have lost 14 seats since then, and after Thursday's vote, are left with five councillors.
In Thurrock, UKIP lost all of its seven seats as the unitary council remained in no overall control.
The only Essex council Labour had control of going into the elections was Harlow District, and the party has retained control with the same number of seats - 20 - to the Conservatives' 13.
By BBC Look East political correspondent Andrew Sinclair
It has been a bad night for the Conservatives.
Not only did they fail to take control of Colchester council - their main target - their leader lost his seat to the Greens.
The Tories also lost control of Basildon and Southend due to gains by Labour, independents and Liberal Democrats.
But they will still be the main party of local government in the East.
They held on to Castle Point, Brentwood and Rochford, and I would expect them to hold onto most of their other councils in the East.
The smiles are on the faces of the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives? I am not sure they are smiling.
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