Jon Stewart, one of America's greatest satirists, opened the final episode of "The Daily Show" to cat calls and cheers Thursday, the end of an era for fans after 16 years as a unique voice in US broadcasting.
Loved by liberals as a voice of reason, distrusted by conservatives for his left-of-center perspective, the clever, biting and funny Stewart was joined by some of the talent he has helped to nurture to bid farewell.
There was a farewell message from Secretary of State John Kerry and rock legend Bruce Springsteen was spotted outside the studios ahead of the show's taping as the hash tag #JonVoyage trended on twitter.
The 52-year-old dissects politics, journalism and entertainment, hosting a show four nights a week that skewers politicians, the ways of the world in general and sensationalist cable news coverage in particular.
Since 1999 he has been a liberal conscience, from the end of the Clinton presidency and the arrival of George W. Bush, through the 9/11 attacks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the financial crisis.
Fans are left wondering how they will navigate the 2016 presidential campaign -- even Thursday night's Republican debate -- without Stewart.
He announced his departure last winter, saying he wanted more flexibility in his schedule, and in September the show returns with new host, South African comic Trevor Noah.
- End of an era -
Noah made a fleeting appearance on Stewart's final show, sauntering out to measure up the set and cheekily hold up the measuring tape to Stewart's crotch before promising to come back later.
"It's the end of an era," said Chris Reilly, a homemaker from Connecticut in the queue to attend the taping of the final show for what will be her fourth time in the Manhattan studio.
"It just feels like this is going to be a tremendous void and it's hard to see how it can be filled."
Besides taking politicians and TV networks to task -- CNN and Fox News in particular -- his show had a guest list second to none.
Among those to appear were President Barack Obama, Malala Yousafzai -- the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban -- Republican politicians and Hollywood actors.
Winning 22 Emmy awards, the show has also been a springboard for talent, launching the careers of comedians who are now stars in their own right, such as Stephen Colbert and John Oliver.
Watched by a modest TV audience of 1.3 million a day, the Pew Research Center says "The Daily Show" reached an online audience of 2.7 to 4.4 million a month in the first half of 2015 -- many of them young viewers.
"He was the one bastion of sanity in a world that, to liberals at least, seemed like it had gone completely mad," wrote The Guardian newspaper of Stewart's importance during the Bush years.
- Conservative, liberal divide -
According to Pew, less than one percent of conservatives said they trusted the show, while nearly half of liberals -- 45 percent -- do. It was in times of crisis that those Americans looked to Stewart as a rock.
He was there after the September 11, 2001 attacks, fighting back tears and asking viewers: "Are you OK?"
In June, after the racially motivated murders of black worshippers at a church in Charleston, he delivered a searing monologue about America's "gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn't exist."
"We still won't do jack shit," he said. "Yeah, that's us."
His political guests see him as a platform to court a younger audience -- Fox News reported that he twice met Obama at the White House in 2011 and 2014. But not even the Democrat president got an easy ride.
"Whose team are we on in the Middle East? Who are we bombing?" he asked Obama during the president's last appearance on July 21.
So what next for Stewart? He directed the 2014 film "Rosewater," adapted from a memoir by Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari. But he has not ruled out returning to the world of stand-up comedy, where he started.