Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term in office, but will have to build a coalition to form a German government, as its conservatives support the extreme right wing.
Germany's Immigration Alternative (AFD) was surprised at the creation by winning 13.1 percent of the vote - a result that will bring the far-right party to parliament for the first time in more than half a century.
Merkel appears likely to cobble together a tricky three-way coalition.
“Of course we had hoped for a slightly better result. But we mustn’t forget that we have just completed an extraordinarily challenging legislative period, so I am happy that we reached the strategic goals of our election campaign,” Merkel said and added: “We are the strongest party, we have the mandate to build the next government - and there cannot be a coalition government built against us”.
Germany in particular is coping with the arrival of more than 1 million refugees and other new migrants, and with doubt about Europe’s future since Britain voted to quit the EU.
Leaders of Europe’s establishment have looked to Merkel to rally the liberal Western order.
Immediately after the release of exit polls, the deputy party leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), said her party would now go into opposition.
Manuela Schwesig told ZDF broadcaster: “For us it’s clear that we’ll go into opposition as demanded by the voter.”
Both the FDP and the Greens have played down the prospect of a three-way coalition, but neither won enough seats on Sunday to give Merkel a majority on its own.
Founded in 2013 by an anti-euro group of academics, the AFD has surged as an anti-immigrant group in the wake of Merkel’s 2015 decision to leave German borders open to over 1 million migrants.
Reporting by Sheijla Koçi