Warburton saw red after 18 minutes of an enthralling semi-final after referee Alain Rolland adjudged the Wales skipper had dangerously tackled Vincent Clerc.
The tackle, though, was clumsy at worst - and worth maybe a yellow card. However Rolland ruled that it was a dismissal, much to the dismay of Warburton and his team-mates.
Despite the decision, Wales fought tooth and nail for a place in the final - and they even had chances to win it, with France seemingly unable to full take advantage of the extra man in their ranks.
A brilliant try from Mike Phillips and a penalty from James Hook, combined with some hard-running from Jamie Roberts, kept Wales in the contest.
But the accuracy of Morgan Parra, who added nine points, ensured it would be France who would be returning to Eden Park for the final next Sunday.
Hook, in for the injured Rhys Priestland, had curled over a superb penalty after seven minutes to get Wales off to the perfect start - with the fly-half just off-target with a second attempt four minutes later.
However the game erupted on 18 minutes when Warburton was sent off for the tackle on Clerc.
The decision might have bemused many but Les Bleus were not complaining and they wasted little time in levelling the score with a penalty from Parra.
Only great scrambling defence prevented a try after Hook's clearance had been charged down, while Maxime Medard missed with a drop-goal effort.
Fortunately for Wales, though, a combination of spirited tackling and a lack of ideas from France in attack ensured the floodgates remained shut.
And Wales had a chance to restore their lead but Hook's penalty slid wide.
However it was France who moved 6-3 up as Parra added his second penalty of the game.
Parra should have done better with a drop-goal attempt just after the break while the fly-half cut through the Wales defence before the cover managed to get across.
Parra did extend the lend with a third penalty on 50 minutes - however a moment of brilliance from Phillips gave Wales hope.
The scrum-half picked up at the base of a ruck, handed off Pascal Pape on the blindside and sprinted away to score. Stephen Jones, though, missed the conversion.
And Wales really should have taken the lead with nine minutes left, but despite having worked the position in the France 22 they failed to go for the drop-goal and ultimately coughed up possession.
They went agonisingly close three minutes later, with Leigh Halfpenny's long-range penalty dropping inches short.
And dogged French defence at the death ensured there would be no heroic comeback for Wales.
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