Resuming play on Monday following a torrid weekend that saw their opponents declare with an imposing lead of 473 to leave Joe Root's side needing to complete a record fourth-innings run chase in order to emerge victorious, the hosts were bowled out in insipid fashion for just 133.
England were dismissed twice for just 96.1 overs in the match, one ball less than South Africa were at the crease during their first innings.
"I've had contrasting emotions over the last few weeks and it's all about how we respond," Root told Sky Sports afterwards. "As a squad we have to stay very tight and not dwell or mope, although there are areas we want to improve and learn from very quickly.
"South Africa reacted very quickly to the conditions and we were always struggling after the first innings. There is work to do - we want to become more consistent."
It took less than two overs for the first domino to fall, with underfire opener Keaton Jennings adding only three runs to a first-innings duck before seeing his off stump uprooted by Vernon Philander.
Gary Ballance  sustained a painful blow to his hand from Morne Morkel and narrowly survived an umpire's call before South Africa successfully reviewed another lbw shout from Philander.
If England were to somehow bat for two full days and rescue an unlikely draw, then much rested on the shoulders of Root. However, the new captain could do absolutely nothing to fend off a peach of a yorker from Chris Morris that sent him packing for just eight.
Alastair Cook, closing in on a half-century, soon followed his successor back to the pavilion after gloving a bouncer from Morris down the leg side through to Quinton de Kock. That latest blow left the hosts 79-4 at lunch and staring down the barrel of a truly demoralising loss.
England needed to maintain a sensible, gritty approach and coach Trevor Bayliss would have no doubt been furious to see Jonny Bairstow  attempt to attack a delivery from left-arm spinner Maharaj and succeed only in picking out Morris at mid-on.
Moeen Ali's  reprieve after being given out caught behind lasted only two deliveries as he sweeped straight to Heino Kuhn at square leg. Ben Stokes followed in the very next over, nicely caught and bowled by Philander for 18.
Stuart Broad  also holed Maharaj out to square leg and Mark Wood fell next ball for a golden duck when he edged Duanne Olivier to Morris at gully. Three dismissals in as many deliveries sealed England's humiliation when James Anderson was caught behind off the same bowler.
Philander and Maharaj took three wickets apiece for South Africa, while Morris and Oliver each claimed two as the visitors bowled and fielded brilliantly to coax a second successive collapse.
Root and company, who won the opening clash by 211 runs, will now have 10 days to lick their wounds before the third Test begins at The Oval on Thursday 27 July. The series is scheduled to conclude at Old Trafford next month, after which England face the West Indies.