Rotherham produced an outstanding fighting performance before a crowd of more than 6,000 at Ashton Gate against the Championship leaders and were extremely unlucky not to leave with a losing bonus point.
Indeed, Titans, who scored two thrilling tries by full back Sean Scanlon on eight minutes and then from forward Alex Rieder in the 67th minute, appeared to have earned a point, at least until 80 minutes when Bristol touched down for a fourth try making it 24-17 to the promotion favourites.
Rotherham still had a chance of a point, but to rub salt into their wounds, replacement fly half Adrian Jarvis then converted to make sure that Rotherham left with nothing at all despite total commitment in a determined display that threatened at one stage to cause a major upset.
A try early in the first half by Scanlon, who ran more than 20 metres to the line, which was converted by fly half James McKinney, put Rotherham 7-0 in the lead.
Just before the half hour, McKinney struck again, this time with a superb penalty goal from 45 metres, a score which gave Titans a half time lead of 10-7.
Bristol, though, fought back strongly in the second period to score three tries on 43, 65 and 80 minutes to claim five league points.
However, during the second half, Rotherham were down to 14 men for 10 minutes following the sin binning of forward Jack Preece on the hour. This allowed Bristol to score a third try putting them ahead by 17-10.
But just before the yellow card, it seemed that McKinney had scored a legal try that would have retaken the lead. However, the referee, Mr Luke Pearce, decided otherwise and disallowed the Irishman’s score.
Rotherham overcame this setback by responding quickly through flanker Rieder after solid pressure by the pack on Bristol’s line.
The excellent conversion by replacement back Tom Barrett on 67 minutes cut Bristol’s lead to only 19-17, so Rotherham still had time to claim a famous victory.
As a close game reached its climax, Rotherham suffered another cruel blow. Bristol’s forwards advanced dangerously deep into Titans’ territory.
Replacement hooker Max Crumpton seized his scoring opportunity just before the final whistle to make it 24-17, and when Jarvis kicked his conversion, the goal deprived Rotherham of the bonus point they richly deserved against a club whose playing budget is five times the size of the Clifton Lane side.
Another blow Rotherham suffered was an injury after only 14 minutes to hooker Tom Cruse who had to leave the field in some pain, but the extent of his injury is not known.
Rotherham Titans: Scanlon, Keating, Gill, J. Davies, Wilson, McKinney,A.Davies, Hislop, Cruse, Thiede, Parker, Holmes, Rieder, Preece, Ryan.
Replacements: Birch, Williams, Tampin, Maddison, Harris, Mitchell, Barrett.
Scorers: Tries: Scanlon, Rieder. Conversions: McKinney, Barrett. Penalty: McKinney.
Referee: Luke Pearce.