Kicking off the monologue, Leno promised that this was his last show "for real. I don't need to get fired three times. I get the hint. I get the hint." Later, he added, "I got to tell you, the outpouring from people. It's really been touching. Today Anthony Weiner sent me a photo of his penis looking sad."
Final guest Billy Crystal serenaded Leno with a joke-filled tribute and then introduced a cavalcade of celebrities to sing their own verses, including Jack Black ("If Fallon tanks you'll be back here next year"), Kim Kardashian, Los Angeles Clippers player Chris Paul, singer Sheryl Crow, The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons, Carol Burnett and Oprah Winfrey.
In a pre-taped piece, Kevin Bacon, Steve Carell, Bob Costas, Bill Maher, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Hart, Charlie Sheen ("Buy NBC and fire everybody") and Dana Carvey gave their advice on what Leno should do next. And President Obama, in the piece, joked that he had no hard feelings about Leno's swipes — and planned to name the host "the new ambassador to Antarctica."
Also in the taped piece, Martha Stewart offered her relationship services: "If Mavis ever gives you a one-time hall pass, I'm your girl."
Leno's successor, Jimmy Fallon took the assignment seriously, telling Leno in the piece, "If a big story ever breaks and you have a head full of jokes, you can always come home and tell them on The Tonight Show."
Crystal, who came out with "Burbank Moving Co." stickers and affixed them to the set (and band leader Rickey Minor), called Leno "America's night light."
Crystal noted that he promised Leno on his very first Tonight Show in 1992 that he'd return for the last one. "Promise made, promise kept."
Later, music guest Garth Brooks, who Leno asked to perform his favorite song, called Leno "the dearest friend to entertainment."
Then, with wife Mavis in the audience, Leno choked back tears as he gave his farewell. "This is the hard part," he said, halting several times to regain composure. "We wouldn't be on the air without you people. This has been the greatest 22 years of my life. I am the luckiest guy in the world."
Leno noted that his parents and brother died early in the show's run. After that, "the folks here became my family. People say, 'Why don't you go to ABC or Fox? But I didn't know anybody over there. These are the people I know... I'm excited for Jimmy Fallon. It's fun to be the old guy and see where the next generation takes this institution. It really is time to go."
Leno then quoted Johnny Carson, who ended his Tonight Show by bidding the audience "a heartfelt farewell."
In his recent extensive Q&A with TV Guide Magazine, Leno said he had no plans to do another late night talk show, wanting to avoid hosting "The Tonight Show Lite." His tear-filled farewell seemed to back that up.