With tears in her eyes, Oprah Winfrey said on her Friday “live from Chicago” Oprah show that she will cancel her talk show as of Sept. 9, 2011. Pegging her show’s exit to its 25th anniversary, Winfrey said it “feels right in my bones and it feels right in my spirit.” Her voice breaking, she said haltingly that she valued “the yellow brick road of blessings” her show has brought her. She promised to “knock your socks off” with the “18-month ride.” The audience gave her a standing ovation.

Winfrey waited until we’d watched a grim, wrenching segment on a raped and murdered child, plus interviews with Gabourey Sidibe (the star of Precious, a movie to which Winfrey signed on as a co-producer) and with Ray Romano to make her announcement.

Frankly, during the opening segment, I hit the “mute” button as soon as I heard the phrases “sold into sex slavery” and “cigarette burns on her body.” I just don’t have the stomach for this kind of story, and frankly, was surprised that Winfrey still does segments like this.

But Oprah has done a lot of good that far outweighs the questionable stuff on Oprah. Thus, her announcement had the feeling of an American queen stepping down from her throne, or an unelected president resigning from office. And it’s not as though she’s going to disappear any time soon, which only adds to the pop-culture interest here. Unlike the few major broadcast entertainment figures comparable to her, from Arthur Godfrey to Johnny Carson, Winfrey’s decision to make this a long goodbye will yield a new model for how a beloved celebrity leaves the public stage ( …if only until she starts up her next TV project).

Even when she decides to end something, Oprah does it in a uniquely big way.

Did you watch? What do you think of Oprah ending Oprah?