Chen had been expected to be the main threat to Japanese favourite Hanyu, who retained his Olympic title in style.
Chen put his head on a pillow and fell asleep.
The PyeongChang Olympics are the 23rd Winter Games.
It was enough for fifth place for the 18-year-old, whose bid to upstage Hanyu had come unstuck when he flopped in the short programme on Friday to leave him trailing in 17th.
He scored a 111.68 in the short program, one measly point shy of his best-ever skate and some 30 points ahead of Chen, who had registered a rock-bottom 82.27. The only question that remained was one of stamina.
Watch highlights from Hanyu's golden free skate in the video above!
Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu competes in the men's single skating free skating of the figure skating event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on Saturday.
But skating fans are firmly on Team Pooh.
By night's end, Japanese skaters Juzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno won gold and silver, and Spanish skater Javier Fernandez secured bronze. She slipped during a turn in the final stretch and settled for sixth place. "He is a great encouragement for me in the game, when he's doing well, I wanna do better". Chen finished 5th, Zhou 6 and Rippon 10. The Canadian landed a lovely opening quad toe-triple toe, but the doubled his second quad toe attempt and made a series of small errors from there: doubling an intended triple loop, putting a hand down on a triple axel, and even a trip in the footwork sequence.
In a Team USA press release later, Chen spoke about how his poor performance in the short program motivated him to do better on Saturday. And wearing a delicately beaded blue top that evoked a bird's feathers, he made the ice his canvas in a thematic program set to Coldplay's "O (Fly On)", about a bird with a broken wing taking flight. No matter. He hit every element of a highly hard program with precision and grace. "I'll take it day by day for now and plan for the next competition".
"The Olympics are about a whole lot more than just medals", said NBC broadcaster Johnny Weir, an out retired skater, "and Adam Rippon has proved that".
Zhou staged his own heroics with a five-quad program to music from the "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack. He was 12th in the standings with a season-best 84.53. He did the opposite in the free, adding a sixth planned quad and upgrading the difficulty of a combination jump (without telling coach Rafael Arutyunan).
"Four years ago, when I won gold, I was able to say "hello" to those people affected (in the quake), they were able to show me a lot of smiles", Hanyu said.
While Chen did not medal, his gutsy gamble gave him some redemption for his dismal performance a day earlier. There's no reason to think he won't be a factor in the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing or the 2026 Games beyond that.
After Nathan Chen stole our hearts with his historic free style program, he won us over again.