New Zealand have 23 points from a possible 25 after five matches, Australia four and defending champions South Africa a meagre one with two home matches against the Wallabies to come in the next two weekends.
Captain and hooker John Smit became only the second Springbok after Percy Montgomery to make 100 appearances and received a standing ovation from the sell-out 88,791 crowd as he ran on to the pitch well ahead of his team-mates.
But he did not make an ideal start being penalised for a crooked lineout throw after three minutes and was blown up against by Welsh referee Nigel Owens soon after for taking too long at another one.
Between the slips, Carter nudged the All Blacks ahead with a penalty only for opposite number Morne Steyn to succeed from two attempts that put the Boks ahead 14 minutes into a pulsating clash.
South Africa were displaying commitment sadly lacking on a disastrous tour of Australasia while the All Blacks' ball retention was excellent under fierce pressure.
Carter missed another shot a goal that came off the far upright before landing his second penalty to bring the teams level again, but equality remained for just three minutes before the Boks scored a try.
Steyn was the architect with a tap penalty and pressure took the green and gold to the tryline where scrum-half Francois Hougaard passed for loose forward Schalk Burger to barge over and the try was converted.
Carter reduced the gap to four points on 29 minutes with his third, record-breaking penalty only for Steyn to land his fourth before the first-half scoring was completed by an unconverted try far out from prop Tony Woodcock.
Referee Owens got caught up in the frenetic exchanges when Burger fell on the match official while trying to pull down scrum-half Jimmy Cowan and the Welshman required attention before continuing.
Steyn was back to his goal kicking best and a couple of successful penalty kicks left the Springboks 22-14 ahead with 15 minutes left before Carter kept the runaway table toppers in contention with his fourth penalty.
But the All Blacks pivot failed with another shot at goal six minutes from full-time as the visitors piled on the pressure seeking a fifth consecutive Tri-Nations win and third this season over the Boks.
A dramatic climax saw McCaw and Dagg touch down with Carter converting the second as the All Blacks completed a hat-trick over the Boks after far more comfortable victories in Auckland and Wellington last month.