Defending champion Japan advanced to Sunday's showpiece with a 2-1 semifinal victory Wednesday over England at Edmonton, Alberta.
The winning margin was provided by an own goal from England defender Laura Bassett, who attempted to clear the ball but accidentally sent it into the England net in the 92nd minute.
This was the first time an English team had reached the last four of a World Cup in 25 years and England's defeat had echoes of the men team's exit in Italia 90, when Bobby Robson's side were cruelly beaten by Germany on penalties.
While Japan celebrated, there was plenty of sympathy for Bassett.
"She's epitomized all the values that English football fans want to see in that white jersey when you have three lions on your chest," England coach Mark Sampson said of Bassett.
"Pride, passion, never-say-die (attitude) and play for the team."
Bassett's nightmare came as Japan's Nahomi Kawasumi sent a bouncing cross into the penalty area with about one minute left in the match. Bassett, with a Japan attacker getting past her, lunged at the ball with her right leg in attempt to clear it.
Instead, it looped past England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, who had no chance as the ball sneaked in after hitting the underside of the crossbar.
Earlier, each team had scored with penalties.
Japan's Aya Miyama converted from the spot in the 33rd minute to give Japan a 1-0 lead, while Fara Williams knocked home her penalty in the 40th minute to draw England level.
Though Japan had a decided edge in possession, England outshot their opponents 15-7.
"Our goal was to go to the final and in that sense the players did what they had to do," Japan coach Norio Sasaki said, according to a FIFA translator.
Sasaki said it was a tough match, where his team had to adjust its game plan because of England's direct tactics.
England had some excellent chances to break the deadlock in the second half. Toni Duggan's screamer hit the crossbar in the 62nd minute and just two minutes later substitute Ellen White forced Ayumi Kaihori into a fine diving save to her right.
The match drew a peak audience of 2.4 million in the UK despite a local kickoff time of midnight.
The numbers continue the healthy TV viewing figures seen at this year's Women's World Cup.
Canadian broadcasters CTV and RDS reported an average audience of 3.2 million for the host nation's defeat to England while France's agonizing exit at the hands of Germany was watched by 4.1 million French viewers, according to statistics published by FIFA.
Tournament favorites and two-time champions, the U.S. also scored big in the win over China, netting an average audience of 5.7 million.
Japan will meet the U.S. on Sunday in a rematch of the 2011 World Cup final.
Japan and the U.S. played to a 2-2 tie four years ago, and Japan won the penalty shootout 3-1.
The U.S. gained a measure of revenge the next year, downing Japan 2-1 in the Olympic women's gold medal match.
England will play Germany on Saturday for third place.