Zambia teenager Patson Daka opened the scoring and set up Brian Mwila to put the hosts ahead again after a 1-1 stalemate at half-time in the central city of Ndola.
The result saw the "Indomitable Lions" finisb third with seven points, having won only one of their six matches, at home to off-form Algeria last month.
Cameroon had been expected to mount a strong challenge for first place and a ticket to the 2018 finals in Russia as they chased a record-extending eighth World Cup appearance by an African country.
But after drawing away to Algeria and at home to Zambia last year, they were trounced 4-0 by eventual group winners Nigeria two months ago to effectively drop out of contention.
Nigeria drew 1-1 in Algeria Friday to finish with 14 points, followed by Zambia (eight), Cameroon (seven) and Algeria (two).
Cameroon sprang a surprise last February by winning the Africa Cup of Nations in neighbouring Gabon, coming from behind to beat Egypt 2-1 in the final.
Belgian coach Hugo Broos, the architect of the continental triumph, says he is rebuilding before Cameroon host the 2019 Cup of Nations, and has pleaded for patience.
He will take hope from the performance of Fabrice Ondoa in the draw in Zambia as the Spain-based goalkeeper made a string of excellent saves in both halves.
Zambia coach Wedson Nyirenda must have been encouraged by the form of 19-year-old Daka, a member of the team that won the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations this year.
The next competitive outings for the countries are Cup of Nations qualifiers in March with Zambia visiting Namibia and Cameroon away to the Comoros.
Although Cameroon qualify automatically for the 2019 tournament as hosts, they are playing in the qualifying competition to gain match practice.
Senegal on Friday became the latest African nation to secure a place at next year's finals as English Premier League pair Diafra Sakho and Sadio Mane played key roles in a 2-0 defeat of South Africa in Polokwane.