Jim Naughtie bade farewell to the Today programme after 21 years on the flagship BBC Radio 4 show, saying it had been "one of the great privileges" to be in the presenter's chair.
His familiar voice cracking with emotion, Naughtie paid tribute to the show's listeners, telling them: "You are the programme."
The programme's Twitter account said there was "not a dry eye in the house" as Naughtie signed off for the final time.
Presenting alongside fellow veteran John Humphrys, Naughtie said he had been "woven into the fabric" of the show.
He said that the Today programme will continue but "it is inescapably a moment of change because you can't sit in this chair, working with such talented and decent producers, without being woven into the fabric of the programme, which I am, with all the presenters down the years - especially Sarah (Montague), Justin (Webb) and Mishal (Husain) in recent times, as well as my old friend here with whom I started and with whom I now finish. I will be giving them my thanks".
"But all of you who listened need to be thanked too. You are the programme, thank you."
Naughtie will continue to appear on air, working as a special correspondent for Radio 4, a job he described as a "dream".
He told Humphrys: "It does mean that at 2.58-and-a-half that alarm will no longer go off to get me up and it will also mean, I have to say, that you will have a tidier desk, John."
One of Naughtie's final interviews on the show was with former prime minister Sir John Major, who told him: "I will miss you, and I think a lot of other people will in the morning.
"And I will do so because generally you have asked the right questions, mostly you have listened to the answers and also you have done it in an extraordinarily professional way so I hope as you leave you are proud of what you have done."
Senior MP Bernard Jenkin said it was a "privilege" to be on the presenter's final show.
Naughtie replied: "That's very kind of you Bernard. I'll call you by your first name, we can do these things on last days, I think."
Co-presenter Humphrys observed that "normal rules don't apply".
Despite his vast experience, Naughtie has made the occasional on-air slip during his time on the live show - memorably getting into an embarrassing mix-up over the name of then culture secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2010.
He accidentally turned the air blue by replacing the first letter of Mr Hunt's surname with a ''C''.
The on-air stumble sent the broadcaster into a coughing fit, and attracted a slew of emails from listeners who were either amused or angry.
Recalling the moment in the Mail on Sunday, Naughtie said: "The transposition of two initials meant that within two minutes, in Twitter-time an age, I was an object of national notoriety (and considerable amusement). I can still see the emails and tweets cascading down the screens in the office from listeners who couldn't believe what they'd heard (but mostly hoped they had). My most mortifying moment by a mile."
Last month the BBC apologised after Naughtie crashed the pips by swearing.
On the final beep of the time signal the presenter was heard to whisper "shit" before launching into the news headlines.