Jay Leno, <I>The Tonight Show</i> Jay Leno, The Tonight Show

Jay Leno's reign as host of The Tonight Show ended on an appropriately high note, as the NBC talker delivered its best-ever Friday ratings in Leno's 17-year run.

The exact overnights — an 8.8/20 in metered-market households — represent more than double (a 126 percent increase) The Tonight Show's second-quarter average.

Leno's Tonight Show sign-off also served up the program's best ratings since President Obama's March 19 visit. Excluding that milestone, it was the show's biggest draw in more than four years, since a January 2005 tribute to Johnny Carson.

Leno's final Tonight Show was veritably celebrity-free, save for a performance by James Taylor. Instead, the venerable host reflected on the highlights of his tenure and cued up "best of" montages of such segments as "Jay-walking."

In his monologue, Leno noted, "When I started this show, my hair was black and the president was white. When we started this show 17 years ago, Jon and Kate were both eight!"

In another memorable quip, Leno thanked the three people who made his 17-year run such a success — "Michael Jackson, Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton."

He even took a poke at the Peacock, saying that his next gig — The Jay Leno Show, premiering this fall and airing weeknights at 10 pm/ET — indeed represents a big gamble: "I'm betting NBC will be around in three months. That's not a given."

On a serious and emotional note, Leno welcomed on stage the 68 children born to Tonight staffers over the past 17 years.

"That's what I'd like my legacy to be," he said, choking up. "When these kids grow up and say, 'Mom and dad, where did you guys meet?', they're going to say they met on the stage of The Tonight Show."

Conan O'Brien — who was Leno's final guest — takes over the Tonight Show reins this Monday, June 1.