Conan O'Brien Conan O'Brien

Amid intense speculation over his next career move and Jay Leno's widely criticized return to late night, Conan O'Brien stepped down as host of The Tonight Show to his biggest audience ever.

The final episode netted 10.3 million viewers and a 4.4 rating in the adults 18-to-49 demo. Featuring Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and others, O'Brien's last appearance even beat his widely publicized 11:35 debut in June, which attracted 9.2 million viewers and a 3.8 demo rating.

Conan O'Brien says goodbye to Tonight Show

O'Brien's last week on the air averaged 5.3 million viewers — second only to his first week on the job — and helpd O'Brien score his all-time best demo rating of 2.4.  His final episodes showcased the host in top form as he took multiple shots at NBC and Leno, his Tonight Show predecessor and successor.

O'Brien's ratings were a steep increase from his season-to-date average of 2.8 million viewers and a 1.1 demo rating. On Thursday's Oprah Winfrey Show, Leno argued O'Brien's ratings in Leno's former timeslot were "extremely poor" and "destructive" to The Tonight Show franchise.

Leno will return to The Tonight Show March 1.