We may never know the full story over Dempsey’s fallout with Grey’s, but at least Shonda & Co. had the good sense to know that only death would do Derek part from Meredith (Ellen Pompeo). And so, in Season 11, Derek died of medical incompetence at Dillard Medical Center after he was hit by a semi.
Hinton chose to leave the show after Season 13, and Stephanie literally went out in a blaze of glory, setting the hospital on fire to save a young girl from a sexual predator. And after narrowly escaping with her life, Steph realized that she wanted to experience life outside of a hospital for once.
George O’Malley (T.R. Knight)
Knight exited the show after Season 5, citing disappointment with George’s storyline and a communication breakdown with Rhimes, and George died after saving a stranger from the path of an oncoming bus. An abrupt ending, yes, but a heroic one, at least.
Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh)
Oh gave a full season’s notice, specifying that Season 10 would be her last before the season even premiered. And so the Grey’s writers had time to give her a fitting sendoff, with her old flame Burke handing her the keys to a cutting-edge cardiothoracic research center in Switzerland.
Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington)
In the wake Washington’s gay slur scandal, ABC didn’t confirm his firing from Grey’s until after Season 3 had already concluded, but the writers must have seen the writing on the wall. In the Season 3 finale, Burke realized that his wedding to Cristina wasn’t what she wanted, and he disappeared… until the aforementioned reprise in Season 10.
Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez)
According to Rhimes, Ramirez didn’t give the writers a heads-up that the Season 12 finale would be her last episode. To her credit, though, she picked an opportune time to bail: Callie was getting ready to leave for a new life in New York City in that finale.
Mark Sloan (Eric Dane)
Mark only lasted two episodes more than Lexie, succumbing to his injuries—cardiac tamponade, to be specific—after being airlifted back to Seattle. It was a sad epilogue to the plane crash drama, but at least Mark regained consciousness long enough to spend quality time with his friends at the hospital.
Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh)
Anyone who didn’t watch the premiere of Grey’s spinoff Private Practice missed the scene where Addison quits her job at the hospital then known as Seattle Grace, but the character made plenty of return trips to her former workplace.
April Kepner (Sarah Drew)
After surviving a near-death experience (and after Drew and costar Jessica Capshaw got their walking papers during Season 14), April found her happily-ever-after with ex-fiancée-turned-husband Paramedic Matthew (Justin Bruening) and left the hospital to work with Seattle’s homeless population. It’s a fitting ending for such a good-hearted character… but would April really give up surgery that easily?
Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw)
Once daughter Sofia started missing her NYC life, Arizona decided she and Callie should be co-parenting in the same city, and she opted to relocate to the Big Apple. Grey’s gets points for teasing the potential of a Calzona reunion—with Callie and Arizona flirting via text message before the move—but the show loses points for not bringing Sara Ramirez back to close out Arizona’s storyline.
ABC/Screencap by Home of the Nutty
Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl)
Heigl’s discontentment on the Grey’s set made national news during Season 6, but the ending fans got—Izzie fleeing Seattle after getting rejected by estranged husband Alex—is not the one the writers had in mind. Fans had long held out hope of some sort of Alex-Izzie closure, but now those hopes are dashed because of…
Alex Karev (Justin Chambers)
Hours, nay, minutes after the announcement that Chambers was leaving Grey’s came the news that his last episode had already aired in Season 16 and there wouldn’t be any sort of send-off for the character. Alex at least saved Meredith’s medical license in his final appearance, but fans—and Jolex shippers!—deserved more.
ABC/Screencap by Home of the Nutty
Leah Murphy (Tessa Ferrer)
Leah didn’t do much during her tenure at Grey Sloan besides sleeping with Arizona and inspiring a non-fraternization rule at the hospital. And when Ferrer was let go during Season 10, Grey’s closed out Leah’s storyline, with Richard (James Pickens Jr.) firing her from the hospital for being a better doctor than surgeon. But then the writers brought Leah back for a handful of Season 13 episodes, and for all we know, she’s… still there? Somewhere?
The doctors are out. The abrupt departure of Justin Chambers from Grey’s Anatomy is just the latest in a long succession of cast member exits from the ABC drama, which has bid farewell to a dozen and a half series regulars in its 16-season run so far.