Investec also featured prominently on the losers' list after the investment bank missed expectations with its annual earnings.
Charts suggested the domestic equity market was due for a pullback, after rising about 10 percent so far this month, with both major indices booking record highs in May.
Before Thursday's fall, the benchmark JSE Top-40 index was in an overbought territory, according to its 14-day relative strength index, or RSI.
The Top-40 index fell 2.67 percent to 36,312.44, its biggest daily decline since September 2011. The broader All-share index ended down 2.34 percent at 40,855.89.
Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, threatened an earlier-than-expected pullback of stimulus measures that have helped propel equities to multi-year highs.
Also weighing on sentiment was data that showed factory activity in China, the world's biggest consumer of metals, shrank for the first time in seven months.
"The news out of China and from Bernanke is not good but the market seems to be over-reacting or using the news as an excuse to also take some money off the table after a recent strong run," said Ferdi Heyneke, a portfolio manager at Afrifocus Securities.
Mining giant Anglo American topped the decliners' list on the Top-40 index, sliding 5.8 percent to 225.49 rand. Rival BHP Billiton lost 3.34 percent to 279.55 rand.
Investec was down 3.6 percent after posting a below-forecast 16 percent increase in its annual earnings.
On the flip side, investors picked up gold mining shares as bullion prices cruised higher. Gold Fields added 1.04 percent to 56.58 and rival AngloGold Ashanti was 0.75 percent higher at 158.99 rand.
Trade was robust with at least 220 million shares changing hands, according to preliminary bourse statistics. Decliners outpaced advancers 206 to 84.