February 7th, 2014
01:00 PM ET
Thursday night may have been Jay Leno's second time leaving "The Tonight Show," but it was more heartwarming than the first.
It was also more impressive in ratings. According to NBC, Leno's final "Tonight Show" episode had its highest overnight ratings since March 2009, when President Obama became the first sitting president to appear on a late-night talk show. When we start talking overall viewers, Leno pulled in the highest number he's had since 1998 with 14.6 million watching.
The 63-year-old late-night host was feted with a wide selection of celebrity guests as he said goodbye, from Billy Crystal - who was Leno's first guest back in 1992 - to Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Crow, Jim Parsons, Chris Paul, Carol Burnett, Jack Black and Kim Kardashian.
"Tonight is the last show for real," Leno joked in his monologue. "I don't need to be fired three times."
After that, Crystal helped lead his crew of surprise guests in a rendition of "So Long, Farewell" from "The Sound of Music" - a joke-filled production that even got Oprah to sing.
And then came the hard part, a clearly emotional Leno said as he gave his closing remarks.
"The first year of this show, I lost my mom. Second year, I lost my dad. Then my brother died. And after that, I was pretty much out of family, and the folks here became my family."
That showbiz family helped to make his two-plus decades at "Tonight" "the greatest 22 years of my life," he told the audience. "I am the luckiest guy in the world."
As he makes his exit, Leno has been enveloped in warm wishes from former guests as well as some of his late night rivals.
On "The Late Show," David Letterman commended his rival. "Congratulations on a wonderful run," Letterman said. "And I'll tell you something, if I was Jay Leno and I was retiring, you know what I'd do? I'd go out and buy myself a car."
Conan O'Brien, meanwhile, was more coy in acknowledging Leno's departure.
"The Olympics start airing tonight on NBC. It's very cool. That's right, NBC has the Olympics," he said. "NBC will finally get to show somebody who is OK with passing the torch."
As the audience laughed, O'Brien told them, "I allowed myself one, but it was a good one."
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