England resumed at 3-38 after only 92 minutes was possible on Friday following Thursday’s total washout.
McGrath’s display gave Australia hope of levelling the series despite all the time lost to bad weather.
Former Australian swing bowler Bob Massie, the man who took 8-53 and 8-84 in an astonishing Test debut at Lord’s in 1972, missed all the action as he showed up with his ticket for Sunday, forcing him to go back to his hotel and fetch the right ticket.
Sixteen minutes was lost to rain in the morning but it couldn’t stop McGrath finally showing England what he was capable of after a disappointing first Test.
It was his first bag of five wickets in an innings against England and his seventh in 30 Tests. McGrath’s previous best was 6-47 against the West Indies in Trinidad two years ago.
Reiffel made the crucial breakthrough when he had Thorpe caught at bat-pad for 21 in the fifth over of the day.
McGrath had a nervous John Crawley caught behind for one and first ball after a rain delay trapped Nasser Hussain lbw for 19.
Hussain batted for 107 minutes, indicating the difficulty of scoring against the accurate McGrath and Reiffel.
Croft, dropped on one by Mark Waugh off Reiffel, was caught behind off McGrath, as was Gough after a brief flurry.
Mark Ealham made seven in 51 minutes before spooning Reiffel to Elliott at mid-on, and McGrath had Andy Caddick lbw to end the innings in 42.3 overs and little more than three hours.
Earlier, Reiffel revealed he had sought counselling when left out of the original Ashes touring party.
A surprise omission from the touring squad, Reiffel, at 31, was facing something of a career crisis.
When he had just about worked his way through a maze of emotions – from anger to depression to disappointment – Reiffel had a chat with the Victorian team’s psychologist, Anthony Stuart. The diagnosis came as a shock, but soon enough Reiffel recognised its truth. He was grieving.
“I was a little bit surprised by that,” Reiffel said at a rain-interrupted second Test at Lord’s.
“I hadn’t thought of it that way. It sounds a bit dramatic and I thought: ‘No, that’s not me.’ Then I looked at it calmly and I realised he was right. I realised it is grieving when you lose something that is so close to you and that takes up a lot of your life.
“It was a big help to me, although I had gone through some depression and had sorted out my feelings. But Stuart confirmed things for me, confirmed that I was going in the right direction. But I was pretty low for a while. It took a bit to get over.
“I’m still disappointed I wasn’t picked in the first place. It’s only sport, but it’s also a career. But there are worse things that can happen to you. And being dropped is no different from someone losing their job. It happens to a lot of people.”
After that conversation with Stuart, Reiffel forgot all thoughts of retirement and decided to enjoy the rest of his cricket life.
“The experience was the worst of my career and I did go through some depression, but I never really thought seriously about retiring.
Reiffel is bowling as if the last Ashes tour four years ago was just yesterday. He dropped straight onto that mythical “English length” the minute he got a ball in his hand and it seems he inspired McGrath.
But with all the lost time, the whole exercise may well be academic.