The resignation of Chancellor Bruno Kreisky means the end of Austria's ''Kreisky era'' in only a limited sense. Ripples will long continue from the economic reforms and international bridge-building fostered during his tenure of 13 years, longer than any other current leader in Western Europe.
Mr. Kreisky attributed his departure to the ''defeat'' of his Socialist Party. It remains the strongest party after Sunday's parliamentary elections but without the absolute majority of seats it had held since 1971. The loss of votes was blamed on such matters as recession and threatened increases in taxes.
But in a view from afar the problems and controversies of the moment do not loom as large as the achievements of the Kreisky years.
To be sure, those years had their controversies, too, as might be expected when anyone tries to mediate, as Mr. Kreisky did, between antagonists so entrenched as Moscow and the West, and Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. For example, when Mr. Kreisky visited US President Reagan earlier this year, they had various disagreements to talk about, such as Austria's recognition of the PLO and its trade in technology with the Soviet bloc.
Yet a couple of years ago a finance official from Austria became the first from abroad to appear before the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress. The event was a sign of international interest in an Austrian decade of economic growth among the highest in the industrial world, with real output rising by more than 50 percent and unemployment virtually eliminated.
Though much of Austria's industry was nationalized, it had managed to avoid many pitfalls of mixed economies. One key was the kind of cooperation among business, labor, and government that is now being widely called for to safeguard Western recovery from recession.
Austrian wages and prices have been restrained not through fiat but through ''institutionalized dialogue'' under the auspices of an economic stabilizing commission. A variation on the medieval apprentice system has helped prepare young people for needed jobs. Technological advances have been accompanied by retraining of displaced workers. ''Industrial democracy'' has been practiced, with labor participation in management deliberations. One result has been the frequent citing of the Austrian experience by Britain's Social Democrats in their efforts toward a broad-based British economy while breaking from the Labour Party's domination by trade unions.
Mr. Kreisky's personal leadership went beyond the domestic economic realm to a pioneering regard for the needs of the developing countries - and the mutual benefit for an exporting industrial world in helping to meet them. To overcome their unemployment and famine, he said, ''can be neither an act of pure charity nor one of strictly commercial profit-oriented nature but an undertaking of political reason and, therefore, an eminently political act.''
What was eminently political he sought to link with what was eminently moral. Indeed, he saw that what was eminently political would almost by definition have to be moral, too. This is a strand in the Kreisky era worth extending beyond anyone's term of office.