Australia captain Tim Paine says winning the Ashes in England was "his dream as a cricketer" after his side retained the urn at Old Trafford.
Australia beat England by 185 runs in a final-day thriller to take an unassailable 2-1 series lead.
Paine said his side had shown "great character" to recover from the 2018 ball-tampering scandal and win in England for the first time since 2001.
"People can give up or they can keep fighting," Paine said.
"It's times like that where you find out what sort of people you've got.
"I'm really proud to be in the position I'm in and even prouder of our group and our staff and where we've come from."
Australia will head to The Oval for Thursday's final Test searching for a first series win in England for 18 years.
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'Genius Smith is getting better'
Australia faced some stubborn resistance from England on the final day at Old Trafford, with the hosts needed to bat all day to save their Ashes campaign.
Joe Denly made 53, while Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler showed defiance, as well as a brave ninth-wicket stand between Craig Overton and Jack Leach.
However, Josh Hazlewood claimed the final wicket of Overton to ensure the Ashes will return to Australia.
Paine was appointed Test captain in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa.
The 34-year-old made his Test debut in 2010 but a persistent finger injury limited his international appearances and he considered retirement before being recalled to the Test side in 2017.
"I didn't think it would be this emotional," Paine told Test Match Special.
"The amount of work that's tried to go into retaining the Ashes has been enormous and I'm really proud of this group and how we bounced back from Headingley.
"I could have been working at Kookaburra, so this isn't too bad!"
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This summer's Ashes was Steve Smith's first Test series since serving his ban for ball-tampering.
He is currently the series' leading run-scorer with 671 runs from five innings, including two centuries and one double ton.
"The scary thing is, I think he's getting better," Paine said.
"People don't see how driven he is, how much he trains, how much he eats and sleeps batting. He's just a genius and I never had any doubt he would come back and be the player he was.
"I don't know where it's going to stop but we're enjoying being along the ride with him."
'Headingley makes today sweeter'
Australia were within touching distance of retaining the Ashes in the third Test at Headingley, before Ben Stokes' remarkable innings allowed England to level the series.
Paine, whose captaincy and use of the review system was criticised after Headingley, said the loss would "break a lot of teams".
"I was really confident we weren't one of those teams, I could feel it. I thought we handled it superbly, turned up here and did our jobs as good cricket teams and good sports teams do.
"Headingley's loss certainly makes today a little bit sweeter."
Australia coach Justin Langer said the week following the Headingley Test had been the "most challenging of my career - and now my most satisfying".
"They way we were, we could easily have had our tails between our legs," Langer told Sky Sports.
"We got everyone together after Headingley and watched that horrible final 15 minutes.
"This series has been incredible for Test cricket and it's nice to get the job done."