The 31-year-old Spaniard will meet 2015 victor Stan Wawrinka in Sunday's final after the Swiss defeated top seed Andy Murray 6-7 (6) 6-3 5-7 7-6 (3) 6-1 in a high-octane contest that lasted four hours and 34 minutes.
Stan Wawrinka plays a backhand against Andy Murray in Friday's semifinal match.
The fourth set however is the one Murray will rue.
The Spaniard, whose only defeat on the red dirt this year came against Thiem in Rome, then broke with a clubbing forehand and lost only three more points on serve as he wrapped up the second set. The Spaniard won his 23rd match of 2017 on clay - one more than Thiem.
Third seed Wawrinka's earlier epic five-set battle against Andy Murray had delayed Nadal's appearance until almost 6pm local time and there was a sense of "after the Lord Mayor's show" as the day's second semi-final began.
Murray, who like Wawrinka owns three Grand Slam titles, made only one unforced error in the first seven games. He stands a formidable 78-2 at the venue and is 42-6 this season. Today is not the moment to think about La Decima, it's the moment I have to be very happy.
"Today was not an exception". So I only have myself to blame for that, for the way I played coming into the tournament.
He certainly did that against Murray, through their many lengthy and delightful exchanges and various ebbs and flows in which one player, then the other, appeared to be in control, only to cede it soon thereafter. For me, being in the final was always going to be a very positive result.
Wawrinka moved into his fourth Grand Slam final and stands one win away from duplicating his 2015 trophy in Paris.
Wawrinka surrendering the first set ultimately didn't affect him but the same couldn't be said about Thiem.
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"Sometimes a match changes after the first game in a set", said the 14-time grand slam victor.
"A lot of the points he was dictating from the middle of the court and I was retrieving and allowing him to pretty much hit the shots that he wants". The way I was trying to keep my line, trying to keep being aggressive, keep going even if I lost a lot of points by some incredible defense from him. You have to accept it.
Nadal holds a 15-3 record against Wawrinka in head-to-head meetings, including a 5-1 mark on clay.
The 32-year-old, now the oldest French Open men's finalist since Niki Pilic in 1973, might have won all of the first three sets, but somehow found himself behind.
There were no break points in the fourth set, but Wawrinka was simply too good in the tiebreak, taking it with a powerful forehand service return.
Starting the fifth set, Wawrinka shot away to take a stranglehold, winning six straight games and finishing the marathon effort with a ripping backhand victor down the line.
The decider flashed by in just half an hour as Wawrinka levelled his grand slam win-loss record against Murray to 3-3 with yet another backhand victor.
At 3-0 in the third to Wawrinka, things looked bleak for Murray, but he moved a little closer to the baseline while continuing to pull off some unbelievable recovery shots. "I tried to keep fighting".
He said: "I'm proud of the tournament I had".
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