"Guess what?" Stewart said. "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 basic-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 Thursday's Republican presidential debate -- which actually happened after the taping -- but said he didn't 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, Lewis Black, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Rob Corddry, Samantha Bee and Wyatt Cenac.
Thank you Jon Stewart.— Steve Carell (@SteveCarell) August 7, 2015
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. Wolf Blitzer wished him well, while the screen behind him on the CNN set read, "Screw you, Stewart."
Hillary Clinton bemoaned Stewart leaving "just when I'm running for president. What a bummer."
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," with guests clustered around like it was the band at a high school dance.
Springsteen inspired Stewart to follow his own career dreams. 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.
Celebrities, politicians and fans alike used the hashtag #JonVoyage to pay tribute on social media. Even the White House weighed in, tweeting out some of their favorite moments from President Obama's appearances on the show.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.