It was Croatia's third men's Olympic handball medal after they won gold in 1996 and 2004, making up for losing bronze four years ago to Spain, while Hungary finished just off the podium for the fifth time in eight Games appearances.
"We tried everything we could to get a medal. I think against Sweden we had a big opportunity to play for the gold," Hungary's Gergely Harsanyi told Reuters in reference to their Scandinavian semi-final conquerors.
Coach Lajos Mocsai said his players were still feeling the effects of their gruelling quarter-final thriller against medal favourites Iceland, won 34-33 by Hungary in extra-time.
Olympic Games
Handball future 'reliant on UK Sport funding'
16/12/2012 AT 15:09
"After that game we lost our stamina and here the better team won," he told Reuters through an interpreter.
In the battle for bronze, Hungary were indeed devoid of their energy unlike in earlier rounds as Croatia stormed to a five-goal halftime lead.
Lively winger and tournament golden arm Ivan Cupic ducked and dived to notch up five strikes in the first period to leave coach Slavko Goluza delighted.
"We feel like winners," he said.
"It would be nice to have a different medal but a medal at the Olympics is still a medal."
Cupic finished the game as top scorer with eight goals with support from Blazenko Lackovic (seven) while the hauls of both Domagoj Duvnjak (six) and Manuel Strlek (five) provided able support as Croatia coasted to victory.
Hungary meanwhile were over-reliant on Harsanyi and the giant Laszlo Nagy with seven and six goals respectively. Croatian goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic kept his side firmly in control by repelling shots in the second half.
Hungarian support, superb throughout the tournament, still cheered their team after the final whistle while Croatia's players bounded around in joy.
"This was the best championship in my life," said an upbeat Harsanyi.
Holders France play three-times runners-up Sweden at 15:00 UK time for the gold medal.
Olympic Games
British handball's Wiiliams fumes at expected cut in funding
17/08/2012 AT 13:48
Olympic Games
France beat Sweden to win handball Olympic gold
12/08/2012 AT 15:45