Berlin: With all 299 of Germany's districts reporting, preliminary results show the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) at 25.7%, narrowly ahead of the centre-right Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party (CDU/CSU) at 24.1%.
Both the conservative bloc and the SPD have said they want to lead the next government, and mathematically, either party could if they secure the necessary allies.
The environmentalist Greens recorded their best ever result, taking 14.8% of the vote. The pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) netted 11.5%, while the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) totaled 10.3%. The socialist Left party ended up at 4.9%.
Centre-left parties emerged as the biggest winners of the election. Both the SPD and the Greens gained more than 5% compared to their results in the last federal election in 2017.
The conservative bloc suffered heavy losses as the Angela Merkel era comes to an end. They came in down over 8% on the previous election, which was their worst result since World War II.
In such a tight race, coalition possibilities remain unclear.
According to these preliminary results, one option is a continuation of the "grand coalition" of the conservative CDU/CSU bloc and the SPD that has governed Germany since 2013.
However, with the two biggest parties both vowing to build the next government, Germany could be headed for a three-way coalition for the first time since the 1960s at the federal level.
Options include a coalition between the CDU/CSU, the Greens and the FDP.
Alternatively, the SPD could also seek to partner up with the Greens and the FDP.
All parties have ruled out entering into a coalition with the AfD.
The election of Germany's new chancellor by the Bundestag won't take place until a governing coalition has been formed. This could take months. But SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz said he hoped coalition talks would be wrapped up by Christmas.
"To name an exact date would be absurd, but it must be the case that I, that we, do everything to ensure that we are ready before Christmas — a little earlier would also be good," Scholz said during a round-table discussion with other party candidates on Sunday night.
CDU chancellor candidate Armin Laschet also called for a government to "definitely" be formed before Christmas. In the meantime, Angela Merkel will remain in office in a caretaker role.