Her party, the Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian partners, the Christian Social Union (CSU) fell just short of an overall majority.
Mrs Merkel will therefore need a new coalition partner for her third term as Chancellor, as the share of the vote for Liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), with whom the CDU/CSU has governed for the past four years, fell below the five per cent threshold for entry into the Bundestag.
Despite the clear win for the centre-right CDU/CSU, the elections saw a slight shift towards the left, with the collapse of the FDP vote and the Social Democrats (SPD) gaining support.
The next few weeks will see a prolonged period of coalition negotiations, with a ‘grand coalition’ between the CDU/CSU and the SPD, under the leadership of Mrs Merkel, the most likely outcome.
Under the new government, continuity is likely but with slightly more socially-oriented policies on the economy, finance and taxation, the European Union, social security and healthcare.