When deciding how to say goodbye to fans of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart has plenty of role models to look to. Just eight months earlier, his own protégé, Stephen Colbert, wound down his Comedy Central show, bound for the host's seat on The Late Show, which David Letterman vacated in May. Here's how five of the most famous television hosts handled their final episodes.
Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report
The Comedy Central personality cooked up a series finale that stayed true to the show's bizarre nature. After killing off the character "Grimmy" during a segment of "Cheating Death with Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A.," he rode off into the night with Santa Claus, Abraham Lincoln and Alex Trebek. Dozens of Colbert's most notable guests from the show's nine-year run joined him onstage for a rendition of "We'll Meet Again," including Willie Nelson, Katie Couric, Big Bird, Henry Kissinger, George Lucas, Cyndi Lauper and others.
David Letterman, Late Show With David Letterman
Letterman's last show kicked off with a tribute from every living U.S. president but Jimmy Carter, repeating an archival recording of Gerald Ford announcing, "Our long national nightmare is over." He started his monologue with a self-aware joke ("It's beginning to look like I'm not going to get The Tonight Show") and welcomed actors and comedians to the stage for one of his signature top 10 lists, in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld, Barbara Walters and others read their top 10 "Things I've Always Wanted to say to Dave." The Foo Fighters took to the stage to play a favorite song of Dave's, "Everlong."
Oprah Winfrey, The Oprah Winfrey Show
The two-part penultimate special before Oprah's final episode was a big bash with guests from Madonna to Beyoncé, but her final episode was a much simpler, more somber affair. The talk show host said an intimate goodbye to her audience after 25 years on the air, thanking them for staying with her. "Sometimes I was a teacher," she said, "and more often, you taught me. It is no coincidence that I always wanted to be a teacher. And I ended up in the world's biggest classroom. And this, my friends, will be our last class from this stage."
Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Carson ended his three-decade run in 1992 by having no guests on his final show, addressing an invitation-only audience from a stool on stage. In a move that would later be repeated by Letterman, he took time to speak about his sons, one of whom had died the year before, and made jokes about his own departure. "Look on the bright side; you won't have to read or see any more coverage about me leaving the show," he said. "My God, the Soviet Union's end hasn't received this kind of publicity."
Jay Leno, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno
Like his predecessor, Carson, Leno did not hesitate to rib his employer during his February 2014 finale: "I don't need to be fired three times," he said. "I get the hint." Billy Crystal, who had been a guest on Leno's very first episode, led a special performance of "So Long, Farewell" with appearances by Kim Kardashian, Carol Burnett, Oprah Winfrey and others. Leno choked up thanking his producers and crew in his closing remarks, and quoted Johnny Carson's final words, "I bid you all a heartfelt goodnight." Garth Brooks played out the show with "Friends in Low Places."