This afternoon at Allianz Park Ulster fell short of derailing Saracens' 100% European campaign, with scores from Luke Marshall and Ian Humphreys no match for yet another four-try display from Mark McCall's side.
Saracens, with four winning bonus points from five pool matches, qualify for a home quarter-final while Ulster must defeat Oyonnax next Saturday - preferably with a bonus point of their own - to give themselves a fighting chance of making it to the European Rugby Champions' Cup last eight.
As things stand Ulster sit as the third-best runner up on 13 points, but with fellow quarter-final aspirants Northampton and Toulon still to contest their round five matches, everything will be to play for in next weekend's final round.
The 2015-16 season debut of Jared Payne, rehabilitated from the foot injury he sustained in the World Cup, was one of four personnel changes from the backline which started against Oyonnax, with only the centre partnership of Marshall and Stuart McCloskey retaining their jerseys.
Craig Gilroy moved from full-back to his preferred position on the left wing, with Andrew Trimble returning to the right flank, and the first-choice partnership of Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar reinstated at half-backs.
Up front there were three new faces as Wiehahn Herbst returned at tighthead to partner Kyle McCall and captain Rory Best in the front row, Alan O'Connor joined Franco van der Merwe at lock, and Sean Reidy replaced the injured Chris Henry at flanker, with Robbie Diack and Roger Wilson completing the back row.
Ulster came into the game needing to take something away from Allianz Park, with the other pools' second-placed sides Clermont Auvergne (14 points from five matches), Northampton Saints (10 from four), Stade Francais (14 from five) and Toulon (12 from four) all too close for comfort when only the best three runners-up will progress to the quarter-finals.
Saracens, who suffered their very first defeat of the season last week to Harlequins in the English Premiership, raced into an early lead courtesy of Owen Farrell's third-minute penalty. However the sheer power of the Ulster centre tandem got the visitors deep into the '22' from the restart, and as their backs piled forward Payne picked a perfect grubber kick towards the corner from 10 metres out, which Marshall dove onto for a supremely-worked try.
Jackson converted and, with his opposite number's boot misfiring on 10 minutes, Sarries had to wait until the start of the second quarter to get back on the scoresheet, Farrell slotting over from a central position after an Ulster offside. However his next attempt, on 26 minutes, struck the Ulster upright and when Ben Ransom fumbled on the verge of his own '22' and prompted Michael Rhodes to infringe with hands in the ruck, only poor throwing at the lineout prevented Ulster's progress.
Jackson pulled a penalty of his own wide on 33 minutes when he looked odds-on to extend the lead from 30 metres, and once Herbst had limped off with an apparent ankle injury, replaced by Ricky Lutton, Saracens bossed a five-metre rolling maul to let Billy Vunipola in for the score, converted by Farrell to establish a six-point lead at the break.
Half-Time Score Saracens 13 Ulster 7
A penalty to touch early in the second half got Ulster a five-metre lineout and, when Jamie George and Petrus du Plessis conspired to collapse the rolling maul, Jackson slotted over from the '22' to bring his side back to within three points.
However Farrell responded in kind moments later and as the English league leaders began to turn the screw on the 50-minute mark, a fantastic show-and-go from the out-half eliminated three Ulster tacklers and created the space for Duncan Taylor to ground off the left wing, the try going unconverted.
Eleven points adrift, Ulster began to flounder and new England call-up Maro Itoje popped up with a short-range try on the hour before Gilroy found himself yellow-carded for failing to roll away. The numerical advantage was quickly capitalised on by the now rampant Saracens, replacement hooker Schalk Brits powering through tackles and rolling over the line for the bonus-point try, converted by Farrell.
Humphreys grabbed a consolation on 71 minutes as the replacement out-half intercepted on his own '22' and kept lone chaser Chris Wyles at a safe distance to run a full 80 metres for the score, but it was too little, too late for Ulster who will have it all to do next Saturday when they welcome a resurgent Oyonnax - victors against Toulouse this afternoon by 32 points to 14 - to the Kingspan Stadium.
Full-Time Score Saracens 33 Ulster 17
Saracens (15 - 9) Ben Ransom; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch, Duncan Taylor, Chris Wyles; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth
(1 - 8) Mako Vunipola, Jamie George (c), Petrus du Plessis, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Michael Rhodes, Will Fraser, Billy Vunipola
Replacements (16 - 23) Schalk Brits, Richard Barrington, Juan Figallo, Jim Hamilton, Jackson Wray, Neil de Kock, Charlie Hodgson, Nick Tompkins
Ulster (15 - 9) Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar
(1 - 8) Kyle McCall, Rory Best (c), Wiehahn Herbst, Alan O'Connor, Franco van der Merwe, Robbie Diack, Sean Reidy, Roger Wilson
Replacements (16 - 23) Rob Herring, Callum Black, Ricky Lutton, Lewis Stevenson, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Rory Scholes