Ardently supported by the vast majority of the 23,000 fans inside the Pierre Mauroy Stadium, Mahut and Herbert showed grit to survive the first break point of the encounter.
The duo then broke to lead 4-3 and held on to take France’s first set of the final 6-4.
They took the second by the same score. And the pair who have three Grand Slam doubles titles appeared to be in cruise control after 90 minutes when they went a break up in the third set.
But from 3-1, the Frenchmen lost five consecutive games. Croatia won the third set 6-3 and gained hope.
The fourth set was a tight affair. And the tension mounted at the business end of proceedings. Pavic displayed nerve to save three consecutive match points on his way to levelling at 5-5.
It was to no avail. Herbert and Mahut dominated the subsequent tiebreak seven points to three to give France their first point of the final after the opening day mauling in which they lost both singles matches.
"My job is to visualise a positive outcome and win the whole thing," said France captain Yannick Noah after the doubles victory.
"No team has come from two down since 1939. But we're used to his. Every time the French win something, it's the first time in 40 years this and 50 years that.
"When I won the French Open in 1983, it was the first time in 37 years and so on.
"But we can't think about that. We have to think about a very difficult mountain that we have to climb against two great players."
While Croatia are likely to field their world number seven, Marin Cilic and the 12th ranked Borna Coric in Sunday's singles matches, Noah said he would reveal his line-up just before the start of play.
Sunday will be the last time five set matches are played in the Davis Cup and at a partisan venue.
From 2019, the event will be renamed the Davis Cup finals and be contested by 18 teams at a neutral site over seven days.
There will be three instead of five matches and their length will be reduced from the best of five to the best of three.
"Coric and Cilic were so superior on the first day that we couldn't really get the crowd involved," added Noah.
"We're playing at home and when the crowd are involved it can be positive for us and negative for the opponents. We don't know what's going to happen but we're pleased to make it to the last day."