Lions became the first side to secure a place in the Super Rugby play-offs with a 37-10 victory over Sharks, while a Matt Faddes hat-trick kept Highlanders' hopes alive.
A bonus-point victory over their closest rivals ensured Lions will finish top of the Africa 2 conference, with a 27-0 lead at half-time proving too tough to overturn.
"Tonight was an important hurdle to get over. We've secured that number one spot which is great reward. We're still not there yet. We still haven't achieved anything," said Lions coach Johan Ackermann.
A late rally from Highlanders enabled them to defeat Kings 48-18, while Cheetahs edged out Western Force.
Stormers secured a resounding win over Melbourne Rebels, while Waratahs thrashed Sunwolves in Tokyo.
Hurricanes picked up an important victory against Blues, while Jaguares won their third game of 2016 with a 29-11 triumph against Bulls.
Sunwolves 12-57 Waratahs
A first-half lead was followed by a second-half collapse for Sunwolves. Matt Lucas touched down either side of half-time while Reece Robinson notched two tries in three minutes in a second period which saw the Japanese side fail to register a single point.
Hurricanes 37-27 Blues
Beauden Barrett kicked 17 points as Hurricanes picked up an important victory over Blues in the hotly contested New Zealand conference. A double from Vaea Fifita brought Chris Boyd's team from behind in the second half at Westpac Stadium, keeping their play-off hopes alive.
Melbourne Rebels 31-57 Stormers
Seven tries from seven different scorers enabled Stormers to pick up an emphatic victory away at Rebels. At 14-6 down, Jean-Luc du Plessis kicked the relentless visitors into gear, with Tony McGahan's team crumbling and failing to add to their victory against Force last time out.
Cheetahs 30-29 Western Force
Dane Haylett-Petty scored two second-half tries to give Force hope, but Cheetahs held on for a second win in three matches. The Australian side have now won just one of their last 11 outings, with defeat in Bloemfontein another disappointment.
Lions 37-10 Sharks
A stunning first-half display that saw Lions cross the whitewash four times laid the foundations for a huge bonus-point victory. Sharks fought back through Lwazi Mvovo and Chiliboy Ralepelle but overturning the 27-point deficit in four minutes never looked likely.
Kings 18-48 Highlanders
Highlanders left their best until late, scoring four tries in the closing stages to secure a bonus-point victory. Faddes was the star with a hat-trick, while wingers Jack Wilson and Patrick Osborne both touched down before a late score from Aki Seiuli secured an emphatic scoreline.
Jaguares 29-11 Bulls
Agustin Creevy scored a brace of tries as Jaguares secured a comfortable win over Bulls in Buenos Aires. In wet and muddy conditions, Bulls struggled to get into the contest, meaning they have now lost four out of their last five.
THE KEY MOMENTS
Waratahs overcame an early 9-7 deficit as half-back Matt Lucas and winger Robinson both bagged two tries before going on to complete a 57-12 win.
Du Plessis inspired Stormers to their win over Melbourne, with his kicking seeing the side come from 14-6 down to secure the big 26-point win.
"Just for us in the first half, it was a bit inaccurate," Haylett-Petty said after Force went down to Cheetahs.
"Credit to the Cheetahs, they really ran us around and got us blowing. We came out firing in that second half and tried to claw our way back, but you just can't come back from 17 points down."
"At times we were a little bit rusty as we expected coming back together off a break," Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said. "I'm pleased that by the end of the game we really started to get some flow and scored some excellent tries."
Lions became the first team to qualify for the Super Rugby play-offs and moved top of the overall standings, while things remain tight in the New Zealand conference.