Vettel suffered a bizarre puncture to the right-rear tyre of his Red Bull that ultimately forced him to retire for the first time since last year's Korean Grand Prix, a run of 20 races.
Although the double world champion made it back to the pits at the Yas Marina Circuit, there was too much damage to the car's suspension to safely allow him to return to the track.
It resulted in the 24-year-old German thumping his fist against the steering wheel in frustration, and him then watching the remainder of the race from the pit wall.
There was a consoling arm around the shoulder at one point from F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, although it was not as if his world had just caved in.
Nevertheless, after a run of 19 consecutive results in the points, it means the near-perfect season has now eluded him.
"There wasn't anything we could have done better this weekend," said Vettel, who on Saturday claimed his record-equalling 14th pole position of the year.
"I had a good start and I was very happy with the car. On the exit of the first corner everything seemed fine.
"But then turning into the second I could feel that something was odd on the rear right.
"I had to catch the car surprisingly, and then the second time I couldn't do it any more as I'd lost too much air in the tyre.
"We just need to look at what caused the puncture because to lose the race there, so early on, it hurts for sure."
Red Bull and Pirelli are to further investigate the cause of the accident after drawing no conclusion from a visit to the corner following the race.
Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said: "Together with Red Bull we're still examining the remains of Sebastian's tyre in order to try and piece together what happened.
"It certainly seems to be a very unusual incident. There seems to be no reason that is immediately obvious, and the set of tyres was one he had already used for qualifying.
"But until we know for sure, there's no point in speculating."
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner suspects a piece of debris pierced the tyre wall.
Horner said: "He just appears to have been unlucky, but we will now work with the guys from Pirelli to understand what the failure was.
"We need to piece things together from the bits of tyre carcass, the wheel rim, the data and video footage we have.
"The likelihood is the tyre has picked something up, it has cut it and it has lost pressure."