The Last Dave: Here’s How Late Show with David Letterman Ended Its Run (VIDEO/PHOTOS)

Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS

A night after getting messy with guest Bill Murray, David Letterman took to the stage one last time at Manhattan’s Ed Sullivan Theater.

Wednesday’s show opened with the classic clip of President Gerald Ford declaring after Nixon’s resignation that “our long national nightmare is over,” followed by new clips of former presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush reciting the line as well. Then President Barack Obama echoed the sentiment, adding the kicker: “David Letterman is retiring!” Up popped Letterman, along side Obama, who asked, “You’re kidding, right?” Obama shrugged.

Letterman walked on stage to a standing ovation, lengthy applause and chants of “Dave! Dave! Dave!” Letterman: “See now what happens, we don’t have time for the ‘giving gifts to the audience’ segment.”

Letterman’s final monologue included special clips from The Simpsons and Wheel Of Fortune made for the ocassion. In the Simpsons clip, Homer and Marge marvel at Letterman’s longevity: “Back then Bart and Lisa were still kids and Maggie was still a baby,” Marge says–as the scene expands to see the kids, ageless. The Wheel clip featured a contestant solving the word puzzle: “Good riddance to David Letterman.”

Highlights from Letterman’s monologue:

Letterman admitted he was a little tired of being asked what he will do next. “I hope to become the new face of Scientology.”

“There were signs, there are always signs along the way. One of the signs, Todd the cue card kid told me I can’t write the words any bigger.”

“Paul and I have been doing this show 33 years. That’s 6,028 shows. That’s a lot of shows. Earlier today we got a call from Stephen Hawking. He had done the math, and 6028 shows, he ran the numbers and said it works out to about eight minutes of laughter.”

“Here’s the problem with not having your own show any more. When I screw up, I’ll have to go on someone else’s show to apologize.

“I remember when we started the show, there were mixed responses. Some people said the show didn’t have a chance. On the other hand, the other half said, ‘that show doesn’t have a prayer.'”

“When we started this show, the hottest program on television was Keeping Up with the Gabors.”

“My good friend Paul, more than a guy who’s on television with me every night, good friend, best friend and a wonderful guy… we are going to continue in show business. Next month, it will be June in Las Vegas, which by the way is the time to be in Las Vegas, Paul and I will be debuting our new act at Caesar’s Palace with our white tigers.” (“We have some new illusions planned as well,” added Shaffer.)

Letterman also wished his successor, Stephen Colbert, luck: “I’m very excited I think he’s going to do a wonderful job and I wish Stephen and his staff and crew nothing but the greatest success. Look forward to that.”

Highlights from Letterman’s tenure included his bits over the years with kids, and his 1996 bit where he worked the drive-thru window at a Taco Bell.

Letterman got some heavy hitters (in studio!) to participate in the last Top Ten list, “Top Ten Things I’ve Always Wanted to Say to Dave.”

10. (Alec Baldwin) Of all the talk shows, yours is most geographically convenient to my home.

9. (Barbara Walters) Dave, did you know that you wear the same cologne as Muammar Qaddafi?

8. (Steve Martin) Your extensive plastic surgery was a necessity and a mistake.

7. (Jerry Seinfeld) Dave, I have no idea what I’ll do when you go off the air. You know, I just thought of something. I’ll be fine!

6. (Jim Carrey) Honestly Dave, I’ve always found you to be a bit of an overactor!

5. (Chris Rock) I’m just glad your show is being given to another white guy! [Letterman: “I had nothing to do with that!”]

4. (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale. [Cut to a smirking Seinfeld. Letterman: “I had nothing to do with that either!”]

3. (Peyton Manning) Dave, you are to comedy what I am to comedy.

2. (Tina Fey) Thanks for finally proving men can be funny.

1. (Bill Murray) Dave, I’ll never have the money I owe you.

The Wednesday afternoon taping went 17 minutes long, and CBS made the quick decision to keep it intact–meaning the show was to go long, bumping The Late Late Show with James Corden to later in the morning. The finale ended with the Foo Fighters performing “Everlong,” which Letterman credited with helping him recover from open-heart surgery 15 years ago. As the band played, photos and clips from Letterman’s entire TV career (including his NBC years) flashed across the screen.

Here’s how Letterman ended the show:

“The last six weeks have been crazy. People have been saying lovely things about us and it’s been over the top. I can’t tell you how flattering, embarrassing and gratifying it has all been. I have two things to say about this. First of all, we’ve done over 6,000 shows. I was here for most of them, and I can tell you, a pretty high percentage of those shows just absolutely sucked. And also, in light of all of this praise, merited or not, do me a favor. Save a little for my funeral. I’d appreciate it.

“Paul and I came here 22 years ago from NBC, and a fellow by the name of Howard Stringer ran CBS in those days. And he wanted us to do the show in this theater. Frankly, it was a dump. It was a huge, horrible dump. It was not certified for habitation. Crawling with big rats. Rafters and beams were falling down, and this is also true, the rats were stoop shouldered. That’s absolutely a true story. But he turned it into this beautiful theater. Hal Gurnee also helped, and now look at it We’ve come to call it home every day and love it more and more. What a wonderful place to do a show. And what tremendous music this place has housed over the years.

“Then Howard Stringer left, and I believe he’s now in charge of a string of successful nail salons. And then a man named Les Moonves took over, and Les is still with us today. Les came in, and this man over the years has been a friend to the show, he’s been very supportive of the show and he’s been more than patient with me. You can underline “patient” several dozen times. I’d like to thank Mr. Moonves for that support.

“And the crew, what a tremendous crew we have here, the people you see on the stage, the people you don’t see on the stage. The people you see upstairs, the props department, the audio, the cameras, the makeup, the wardrobe, the scenic, it goes on and on and on. These people, night after night have put up with my nonsense and have taken great care, not just of me but everybody on the show. My thank you to everybody involved with that.

“The staff, what a tremendous staff, we have researchers and these poor people work in some kind of subterranean pit. And yet they come in day in and day out and do the work.

“And of course, the writers. Throughout the years of this show and the show at NBC I’ve been blessed and lucky to work with men and women who are smarter than I am and funnier than I am and I have always been interested in doing the show that the writers have given me. These people that I have mentioned, deserve more credit for this show than I ever will. Thank you to all of those people.

“I don’t know of a better announcer than Alan Kalter. Biff Henderson. And here’s what I will miss most about this show: [CBS Orchestra band members] Felicia Collins, Sid McGinnis, Will Lee, Tom Malone, Aaron Heick, Frank Greene, Anton Fig and my good good friend, as good a friend as you can have on television, as good a friend as you can have in life, absolutely a musical genius, Paul Shaffer.

[Shaffer: “You changed our lives, and we loved every second of it.”]

“It’s so obvious that they are so much better at their job than I am at my job.

[Letterman also mentions his mother, and points to his wife Regina and son Harry in the audience.] “Thank you for being my family, I love you both and nothing else matters.

“People come up to me all the time and say, ‘Dave I’ve been watching you since your morning show,’ and I always say, ‘Have you thought about a complete psychological workup?’ The people who watch this show, there’s nothing I can ever do to repay you. Thank you for everything, you’ve given me everything.”

Letterman ended the show the way he always does, but with one twist: “For the last time on a television program, thank you and good night.”

Here’s a clip of Letterman opening tonight’s finale with a standing ovation.