South Africa led twice in the second quarter but goals from Rhys Smith, Liam Ansell, Sam Ward, Zach Wallace, plus a brace from Phil Roper, produced a reward after semi-final desperation against Australia.
Matthew Guise-Brown, Mustapha Cassiem and Nqobile Ntuli were in the game for the visitors who ran out of steam in the final two quarters.
Skipper Wallace said: “Our goal before the tournament was to win a gold medal and that’s the direction our group wants to go.
“But we got up from the other night and to get a win like that was really good.
“There was a Commonwealth Games medal on the line and we are delighted with that.
“Six months ago we didn’t have a coach and we were a demotivated group after Tokyo with how far we’ve come in the quarter-finals.
“But I think there’s huge excitement around hockey in England, both men’s and women’s, and we’re definitely on our way to Paris (2024 Olympics).”
England captain Zach Wallace (top) celebrates after scoring the final goal in the 6-3 bronze medal win over South Africa (Martin Rickett/PA)
Both sides had early chances with England keeper Oliver Payne denying Ntuli and Keenan Horne, while Nicholas Bandurak and David Condon closed in on the hosts.
But there were few signs of chaos to come with six goals scored in the second quarter.
Ntuli’s running power caused England problems and Guise-Brown put South Africa ahead from a penalty corner headed high into the net.
England responded instantly when Smith pressed his shot under the body of goalkeeper Gowan Jones.
But South Africa were back in the lead when Horne came on the touchline and Ryan Julius set up Cassiem’s fine finish.
Again England responded immediately as Ansell created space with a smart slash before finding the bottom corner of the goal with a firm strike.
Ward, wearing his usual face mask after suffering a horrific head injury in Tokyo Olympics qualifying, gave England the lead for the first time from a corner kick.
However, parity was restored seconds before the interval when England faded and Ntuli surged from close range.
The third quarter was a much quieter affair until a powerful flurry from Condon left the South African defenders trailing in its wake, although England were unable to finish with a goal .
Payne saved Julius at his near post and England were back in front when Roper ended a rush on goal by crushing a loose ball that had bounced past him.
Chris Griffiths missed a golden chance to extend the lead, but Roper netted his sixth goal of the Games within inches after Ward’s shot passed Jones.
South Africa opted to take Jones out and play an extra outfield player for the final five minutes, but the ploy backfired as a Wallace picked up the win and added bronze to the gold won by the English women on Sunday.