France were "too big and too strong" as they stayed on course for the Grand Slam by out-muscling Wales in Cardiff.
Fly-half Stephen Jones kept his side in touch with regular penalty goals, but the brilliance of French fly-half Frederic Michalak and 24 points from scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde took the Tricolors to the top of the RBS Six Nations table.
Australian referee Stuart Dickinson ended the match under the spotlight for refusing to punish constant French infringing and disallowing a second-half Rhys Williams "try" that would have brought his side back into the match, but Wales were a clear second in the match.
The scrum that let Wales down against Ireland in Dublin was again their Achilles heel as France pushed them from pillar to post.
"They were too big and too strong for us in a lot of departments," Wales coach Steve Hansen said.
"It was a courageous effort to get back to within seven points of them, and we matched France in many departments, but all rugby games are won up front.
"This pack has to mature - it has several 21-year-olds and 23-year-olds - and we now have the structure in Wales to allow them to mature. There were positives - I thought our lock Michael Owen had an outstanding game."
Wales were hit by the late withdrawal of hooker Robin McBryde, who cried off ill and was replaced by Mefin Davies, while France's Damien Traille passed a late fitness test to take his place in their potent backline.
And it didn't take long for the Tricolors to wreak chaos on the Welsh defence. Winger Vincent Clerc joined the line and surged into the home quarter before the move broke down in the corner. The French regained possession and won the game's first penalty in front of the Welsh posts.
Scrum-half Elissalde was given the kicking duties ahead of Michalak and he made no mistake.
The little scrum-half said "non" when offered a 55-metre shot at goal, but Traille stepped up to have a go. He got the distance but not the accuracy, and it obviously encouraged Welsh fly-half Stephen Jones, who levelled the scores in the 12th minute with a superb kick from the halfway line.
Elissalde's second penalty goal edged his side ahead as referee Dickinson began to clamp down on Welsh behaviour at the breakdown.
The try-fest everyone was predicting failed to materialise and the crowd had to make do with three Jones penalty goals as the Llanelli man became the third Wales player to pass 300 Test points. The fourth goal took him past
Paul Thorburn's 304 points, but left him about 800 short of Neil Jenkins' national record.
Big centre Yannick Jauzion gave the 74,000-strong crowd a scare with a powerful burst into enemy territory, but the Welsh pack showed they had learned a thing or two since their dismal efforts in Dublin a fortnight ago and they fought hard to steal possession.
Some great covering work from veteran fullback Gareth Thomas saved another French attack, and the crowd began sensing the third Six Nations upset of the weekend.
Elissalde missed an angled penalty attempt, but the Welsh defence broke in the 39th minute when some fancy footwork from Michalak gave Imanol Harinordoquy space out wide and the big backrower scored his third try in this season's Championship. Elissalde's conversion gave the visitors a 13-12 lead at halftime.
The rain began to fall in the opening minutes of the second half and Elissalde's third and fourth penalty goals extended his side's advantage as the Welsh scrum began to disintegrate. From 6-12 down in the 39th minute,
France had fought back to lead 19-12 in the 46th. Jones slotted his fifth goal from a handy range, but France produced the killing blow in the 57th minute when flanker Serge Betsen snapped up the loose ball as the Welsh scrum fell apart and produced a brilliant pass to put Elissalde in the clear for a 50-metre run to the try-line. Elissalde twisted the knife with a sideline conversion.
The Welsh thought they were back in the match when winger Rhys Williams dotted down, but referee Dickinson found a penalty in the buildup and
Elissalde's fifth penalty goal extended his side's lead to the crucial 14-point mark and gave him a French record-equalling 24 points in a Championship match.
Replacement flanker Martyn Williams scored a consolation try after a Stephen Jones break, but Wales ran out of time to salvage a draw.
Wales: Try - M Williams; Pens - S Jones 5; Con - S Jones.
France: Tries - I Harinordoquy, J-B Elissalde; Pens - J-B Elissalde 5; Cons - J-B Elissalde 2. Halftime: France 13-12.