Cardiff fell to their first European Challenge Cup defeat of the season as they paid the price for a scrappy first half in France.
The Blue and Blacks trailed 17-3 at the break with Brive claiming three tries after kicking penalties to corner.
Cardiff battled back in the second-half and even took the lead at one stage following tries from James Botham, Rhys Priestland and Jason Harries.
However, Brive hit back with two further tries from Arthur Bonneval and Wesley Douglas to secure the win and qualification for the knockout stages.
Cardiff meanwhile, will now face one of the two teams dropping down from the Heineken Champions Cup and will have to wait until tomorrow to find out who.
Dai Young’s side went into the encounter with a place in the Round of 16 assured following three consecutive bonus-point wins previously.
However, by winning in Brive they knew they could guarantee a home quarter-final and even semi-final should they progress in the competition.
Dai Young made eight changes to the team that booked a place in the knockouts, with injury and international player limits leaving the Blue and Blacks stretched, particularly in the backline.
Meanwhile Brive, who were winless in the competition, still had a chance of sneaking into the knock out stages and went into the game with a much stronger team than in previous rounds and buoyed by Top 14 wins over Toulon, Clermont and Lyon.
Tomos Williams captained Cardiff for the first time and following a scrappy start at a bitterly cold Stade de Brive, his half-back partner Priestland booted the scoreboard into action.
However Brive claimed the first try of the game after Ellis Jenkins was penalised for collecting a deflected kick from an offside position.
The hosts went to the corner and displayed plenty of patience as their maul creaked forward before Motu Matu’u pivoted away to score.
Sanchez skewed his conversion but Brive continued to cause Cardiff problems with their impressive combination of power and offloads.
They threatened on numerous occasions before claiming a second try 20 minutes. Again, it came from a penalty kicked to the corner. On this occasion they attempted a slick play off the top, designed to put Arthur Bonneval away.
He was caught but the ball was spread left and after holding the defence, Sanchez lofted a deft offload over the top to Mathis Ferte.
Cardiff had their own opportunities, and at times, Brive appeared loose in defence but mistakes continually thwarted the visitors’ attempts.
Matters were made worse for the Blue and Blacks when Brive claimed a third try on the half-hour mark. They had hammered at the Cardiff line for long periods before Sanchez grubber to the corner for Kevin Fabien.
On this occasion, Sanchez converted to give his side a commanding 17-3 lead.
Cardiff battled to finish the half with a score but were unable to snatch anything and went into the break trailing by 14.
Whatever Young said at the interval did the trick as Cardiff came flying out of the blocks.
Sanchez was first to get on the scoreboard but Cardiff then replied with three unanswered tries.
Botham scored the first following a huge carry from Rhys Carré and a sumptuous offload out the back to maintain momentum. Lopeti Timani also carried hard before the flanker crashed over.
Priestland converted as his next action was to launch a monstrous 50-22 to lay the foundations for a second try in as many minutes.
The pack rumbled towards the line and just as it began to run out of steam, Tomos Williams broke to the right and put his half-back partner away.
Priestland converted and while Sanchez responded with another penalty, Cardiff soon took the lead.
Mason Grady, fresh from his inclusion in Wales’ Six Nations squad, made an impressive outside break combining foot-work with power and he then fired a miss-pass to Harries.
The wing had plenty left to do but he powered over and Priestland added the extras to give his side the lead.
Cardiff now had all the momentum but mistakes crept back into the game and Brive hit back through Bonneval and Douglas.
Aled Summerhill thought he had scored in the closing stages, only for the try to be ruled out for a forward pass and Lloyd Williams crossed in the final play but lost the ball in contact, as Cardiff left France frustrated and empty handed.