The result was a disappointment for Wilders, who had led in opinion polls until late in the campaign and had hoped to pull off an anti-establishment triumph in the first of three key elections in the European Union this year.
The sense of relief among European leaders was palpable.
James Shields, a professor of French politics at Aston University in Birmingham, said it was not instructive to compare the Netherlands and France.
The risk premium demanded by investors to hold French government bonds rather than safe-haven German bunds sank in early trade to its lowest level in two weeks, although the move proved temporary.
Mr Wilders' populist message resonated among a proportion of voters who are fed up with the mainstream and who worry about an erosion of Dutch identity.
REUTERS/Yves Herman Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the VVD Liberal party appears before his supporters in The Hague, Netherlands, March 15, 2017.
Although Mr Rutte's free market Liberal VVD party lost eight seats, it is still the biggest in the 150-seat Dutch House of Representatives with 33 MPs, or 21 per cent of the vote.
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As it got underway, Todd Fisher welcomed everyone to the "show" that he had organized for his mother and sister. Star Wars droid R2-D2 appeared on stage, where he was hugged by Mr Fisher.
The VVD has much in common with the liberal D66 in backing progressive policies on soft drugs and assisted dying.
- Both the Christian Democratic Appeal and the Democrats 66 have 19. "Rutte is not rid of me yet!" The Greens, they have made great gains, whereas the Labour party that's a bit profiled on older issues, economic issues, has really kind of disappeared in the Netherlands. Wilders agreed, tweeting, "We won seats!"
The vote is the first to follow two populist earthquakes previous year: the election of Donald Trump in the United States and Britain's decision to leave the EU.
With Turkey locked in an explosive crisis with the European Union that erupted in the run-up to the polls, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu predicted that "religious wars" will start in Europe.
Whether Mr Wilders's party was placed first or second was primarily a symbolic question: either way, it had little chance of taking power. Though Wilders said on election night that he was ready to talk coalition building, Rutte is highly unlikely to take him up on that.
At 80 percent, turnout was the highest in a decade in an election that was a test of whether the Dutch wanted to end decades of liberalism and choose a nationalist, anti-immigrant path by voting for Wilders and his promise to "de-Islamicise" the Netherlands and quit the EU. Germany chancellor Angela Merkel hailed "a very pro-European result", and a "good day for democracy"; France's president François Hollande congratulated Mr Rutte "for his clear victory against extremism"; Spanish Prime Pinister Mariano Rajoy congratulated Dutch voters for their "responsibility"; and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker praised the "vote against extremists". "The Dutch elections are a flawless start for the electoral year because the populists and the anti-Europeans failed", said Manfred Weber, the leader of the EU's Christian Democrat EPP group. Wilders, like Marine Le Pen's National Front in France and the AfD (Alternative for Germany), has helped mainstream fringe far-right ideas.
The Dutch campaign was followed closely by French and German leaders who face battles with Mr Wilders's ideological allies later this year.