Jon Stewart said goodbye to The Daily Show with songs by Bruce Springsteen and a reunion of the many colleagues that he worked with during 16 years as host.
merica's foremost satirist of politicians and the media said: "Guess what? I've got big news. This is it."
Armed with a razor-sharp wit and research team adept at finding video evidence of hypocrisy or unintentional comedy among the nation's establishment, Stewart turned a sleepy cable entertainment show into a powerful cultural platform.
But the 52-year-old comic announced last winter that he was getting restless and it was time to move on.
For his finale, he pretended to report on the Republican presidential debate - which actually happened after the taping - but said he did not have enough remaining correspondents to talk about all the candidates.
That proved to be the vehicle to bring in a long succession of personalities whose careers were jump-started by Stewart when they were on the show, like Aasif Mandvi, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Samantha Bee.
He'd been away from the show for more than a decade, but Carell said that "becoming an international superstar is just something I did while awaiting my next assignment".
Colbert, who begins in September as David Letterman's replacement on CBS' Late Show, offered the most heartfelt tribute, saying the accomplishments of Stewart's troupe members through the years was a testament to the example he set.
"You were infuriatingly good at your job," Colbert said.
Some of Stewart's comedy targets appeared in cameos to get in a final word.
Hillary Clinton bemoaned Stewart leaving "just when I'm running for president - what a bummer".
"So long, jackass," said 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
Video of the Day
Stewart offered a soliloquy on what was his central job as host - finding doubletalk in the public arena and exposing it for the world to see, although he used a stronger term for it. He urged viewers to be vigilant in watching for it themselves.
"If you smell something, say something," he said.
Fellow New Jersey resident Springsteen provided Stewart's last "moment of Zen". He performed Land Of Hope And Dreams at the host's request, and then Born To Run.
Springsteen inspired Stewart to follow his own career dreams, and also the farewell. Stewart said he admired how the songwriter described his career as an ongoing conversation with his fans.
"Rather than saying 'goodbye' or 'good night,' I'm just going to say, 'I'm going to get a drink, and I'm sure I'll see you guys before I leave,'" Stewart said.
The finale inspired audience members, at least one of whom began waiting in line for a ticket the middle of the previous night. They were sworn to secrecy before leaving.
"From start to finish, it was fantastic," said Randy Gunnell, 29, of Westchester County, New York. "It was emotional, people crying all over the place."
During his final week on the show Stewart ramped up his criticism of Fox News. The network accused him of getting too close to the Obama administration.
Stewart said, "My hunch is this show's been harder on the Obama administration and this president per capita than you ever were in your eight years of Bush fingerbanging."
Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter, Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox News Channel, said, "He's been after us for years. Occasionally we pay attention. We think he's funny. We never took it seriously and it never made a dent in us."
Trevor Noah replaces Stewart as host next month, inheriting most of the same staff. Noah appeared on Stewart's finale with measuring tape, jokingly checking out the set.