In a neat summary of their season, the Clarets promised so much but just couldn't quite deliver as a late Craig Bellamy equaliser denied them a winning finale.
Jay Rodriguez's 15th goal of the season looked to have given Burnley another home success over top-six opposition as Cardiff were almost sent the same way as Norwich, Swansea and Nottingham Forest.
Even champions QPR were held to a draw at Turf Moor, but shortcomings elsewhere left Eddie Howe's men off the pace and ultimately with an eighth-place finish to chew on over the summer.
Cardiff can look forward to the play-offs and a semi-final shoot-out with Reading - but for long periods they were second best to a Burnley side which could have had the game wrapped up by half-time.
Fittingly it was Rodriguez, one of the players of the season, who gave Burnley the perfect start with an early goal.
But the Clarets couldn't add a second and despite an improved defensive performance, in which David Edgar laid down a possible marker for the future, they succumbed right at the death to Bellamy's last-minute strike.
Ross Wallace is denied by the woodwork early on
Cardiff found out just before kick-off that their hopes of automatic promotion in place of QPR had been dashed by the FA's ruling over the Alejandro Faurlin affair.
And although they started as though the verdict had not come as too much of a body blow, their prospects of finishing third soon took a knock as the Clarets went in front.
Sporting their new strip for next season, Burnley played with a real freedom which had Cardiff swiftly back-pedalling.
Ross Wallace, restored to the left flank, easily got the better of Paul Quinn as he ran onto an excellent pass from Chris Eagles to bare down on goal with eight minutes gone.
But Stephen Bywater proved one barrier too far as the on-loan goalkeeper made a superb save to tip Wallace's angled drive onto the bar.
Brian Jensen had to make a regulation save from Jason Koumas at the other end but the Clarets hit back straight away to take a 13th minute lead.
Jay Rodriguez scores his 15th goal of the season
Andre Bikey's radar hasn't been working to maximum effect all season but this time the big defender threaded through a peach of a pass, which Rodriguez took in his stride to steer a low, first-time effort across Bywater and into the far corner of the net.
Some of the Clarets' attacking play was of the highest order and within a minute it could have been 2-0 as the Cardiff defence was sliced open again.
Once more Eagles' provided the decisive pass for Wallace but this time the wingman delayed his shot and Quinn got back to block.
Eagles was instrumental in many of Burnley's best moments and when he collected a quick free-kick to release Rodriguez, the striker was just wide with an effort clipped passed Bywater under pressure from defender Mark Hudson.
Rodriguez then put another effort past the post from the Clarets' tried and tested corner routine and Burnley were well worth a half-time lead guaranteed by Jensen's smart reactions to smother another Koumas effort and then grab a shot on the turn from Jay Bothroyd.
Howe made a change at the break with injury ending Bikey's afternoon and giving Brian Easton a chance to state his case as a central defender alongside the assured Edgar, who seized his chance to impress on his first start since September.
The striker goes close to a second
The re-shuffled back four was given more to do as Cardiff pressed for an equaliser but with Bellamy and Bothroyd kept at arm's length, Jensen was never severely tested.
And even though they couldn't replicate their threat of the first half, it was the Clarets who went closest to the second goal with almost an hour gone as Rodriguez and Wade Elliott combined well for Eagles to let fly with a shot which Dekel Keinan in front of goal.
From the resulting corner, Danny Fox tried his luck and it took a block from Bothroyd to stop the full-back locating the bottom corner.
Jack Cork then launched a mazy run into the box which was only ended by a last-ditch tackle from Kevin McNaughton.
But just as the Clarets were within touching distance of a first clean sheet in 12 games, a long ball over the top allowed Bellamy to race clear and lob the advancing Jensen to claim a share of the points.
Brian Jensen keeps out Jason Koumas
Even then Burnley had the opportunity to end on a high but from Elliott's near-post cross, Cork could not direct his header goalwards with his final touch as a loan player. Hopefully he will be back.
Burnley: Jensen, Mears, Fox, Edgar, Bikey (Easton ht), Elliott, Cork, McCann, Eagles (Alexander 89), Rodriguez, Wallace (Iwelumo 73). Subs: Carlisle, Thompson, Knowles, Grant.
Booked: Edgar 67, Mears 87
Cardiff: Bywater, McNaughton, Hudson (Blake 30), Keinan, Quinn, Olofijana (McPhail 72), Bellamy, Bothroyd, Whittingham, Koumas, Burke (Thomas 56). Subs: Parkin, Chopra, Blake, Rae, McPhail, Heaton.
Referee: Colin Webster