The Crusaders had needed a four-try win to take a bonus point and put pressure on the Chiefs, but managed only three as the Hurricanes fought to the finish.
Defending champions Chiefs can head into their final regular-season match against the Blues on Saturday assured they have a week off before a home semi-final regardless of the outcome.
The Crusaders cemented a home play-off in the first week of the postseason but will have plenty to ponder after a disjointed display in front of home fans.
The Hurricanes were already out of the play-offs but took it to the hosts and pulled within a point in the last 15 minutes when winger Julian Savea scored a late try.
The visitors searched desperately for a late score, but jet-heeled winger Marshall dribbled a kick to the left corner in the final minutes and bolted half the length of the field to touch it over the line.
Zac Guildford and Andy Ellis scored the two early tries for the Crusaders, who enjoyed good service from in-form fly-half Dan Carter but may hope captain Richie McCaw can slot back into the team for the play-offs after a long sabbatical.
Carter kicked two penalties and two conversions to add 10 points.
Victor Vito and Brad Shields scored early tries to keep the Hurricanes in touch.
The Melbourne Rebels sent a host of departing players off in style by piling on five second-half tries to stun the Highlanders 38-37 in a thrilling comeback victory.
Tom English, Cooper Vuna and Bryce Hegarty each scored a brace of tries, with centre English's second securing an emotional, last-gasp win for 12,000 roaring fans at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
Captain Gareth Delve, the heart and soul of the struggling Melbourne club, was given the honour of kicking the last conversion in his final game for the Rebels.
The Welsh number eight, set to play club rugby in Japan, missed to the left of the posts but it did little to subdue celebrations among the players, many of whom struggled to hold back tears.
Along with Delve, Wallabies backs James O'Connor, Vuna and Nick Phipps were among a raft of players taking their last bows for the Rebels, who were also bidding farewell to sacked coach Damien Hill.
"I don't think you could have written a better script for our final game in the season," Delve, capped 11 times for Wales, said in a pitchside interview. "That's why there's such a bright future for the guys coming up."
The gutsy win in the final round of the southern hemisphere competition's regular season capped a difficult year for the Rebels, who were eliminated from playoffs contention early and blighted by off-field problems involving playmaker Kurtley Beale.
Wallabies back Beale, who punched Delve and Vuna in an alcohol-fuelled incident on a team bus in South Africa early in the season, was excused from playing to continue his rehabilitation in Sydney.
The Rebels were more than compensated, however, by an outstanding half hour's play by Australia back James O'Connor.
O'Connor was sensationally dumped by the provincial team early in the week after a disappointing series against the British and Irish Lions.
The Rebels' management may have felt a pang of regret, however, as the talented 23-year-old carved up the Highlanders defence and set up three tries after coming off the bench shortly after the break.
The Highlanders, improbably, had a bonus point before halftime, with fullback Ben Smith, winger Hosea Gear, inside centre Tamati Ellison and Tony Woodcock all crossing to forge a 31-7 lead at the break.
The visitors crumbled thereafter, however, as Vuna scored his two tries and winger Jason Woodward's third conversion put the Rebels within 13 points early in the last quarter.
O'Connor snuck a flat pass wide to put English over for his second in the 68th minute and fed Hegarty at the same left corner to make it a one-point game with seven minutes to play.
Woodward missed the conversion from the touchline and Rebels lock Hugh Pyle was ashen-faced a minute later when he gave away a needless penalty by being forward of the Highlanders' kicker.
That allowed replacement back Hayden Parker to slot the goal and put the Highlanders up by four points with three minutes to play.
The Rebels were not to be denied, however, and a desperate drive down the left touchline saw Vuna offload inside to Hegarty, who barged over the line for the winning try to send a success-starved crowd into raptures.
- Sports & Recreation