In a tense finale to Group B, all four teams still had the chance to qualify for the last eight until the final whistle went in a goalless draw between Cape Verde and Zambia in torrid conditions.
It sparked contrasting celebrations, the coaches and players in Bata celebrating in unison while there were tears in Ebebiyin as 2012 champions Zambia bowed out in the group stages for a second successive tournament.
Tunisia coach Georges Leekens had called on his side, the 2004 AFCON champions, to go all out for the win despite only needing to draw the match to qualify. And the north African side in reality should have achieved that feat by half-time such was their ascendancy.
It was Ahmed Akaichi who broke the deadlock just after the half-hour mark, the striker for Esperance becoming only the second player to score two goals in this tournament after Congo's Thievy Bifouma
as he headed home a flick on by Yassine Chikhaoui
Chikhaoui thought he had enjoyed his own moment of glory with a superb volley only for it to be ruled offside, one of two disallowed goals for the Tunisians.
For a time, DR Congo, tournament winners in 1968 and 1974, looked devoid of a response until drawing level against the run of play in the 65th minute through substitute Jeremy Bokila.
It was Bokila's two goals that had helped seal his side's route to the tournament against Ivory Coast and, just five minutes after coming on, he once again provided a telling difference.
A long ball was headed into the box by Dieumerci Mbokani
, Bokila controlled it with aplomb and guided the ball into the net with his left foot. It was all the more befitting as moments earlier Wahbi Khazri should have already put the game out of DR Congo's reach.
But DR Congo held firm for a record sixth straight draw in the tournament, the game ending slightly farcically in the final minute with neither side really playing as news of the result from Ebebiyin came in.
That match was never going to be a classic, the two teams having scored just three times in 40 combined attempts in this tournament, and it was a cause not helped by a downpour that threatened to see the game abandoned altogether.
If Zambia had hoped the players would be inspired to shine in the wake of a pre-match call from President Edgar Lungu, who won the election at the weekend
, then they were to be sorely disappointed.
Zambia's Evans Kangwa had the chance to grab the win his side needed to qualify late on but made a hash of his effort while Cape Verde, level on three points with DR Congo, only missed out on the quarter-finals by virtue of goal difference.