CSI on Wednesday bid an emotional farewell to star Marg Helgenberger, the latest original cast member to leave the long-running crime show on CBS. Cast and crew members — including series creator Anthony E. Zuiker and Executive Producer Carol Mendelsohn — packed the show’s set on the Universal City, Calif. lot to hear Helgenberger say goodbye after wrapping her 263rd episode as Catherine Willows. (The episode will air Jan. 25)

“I’ve been thinking a lot about this moment for a very long time,” began Helgenberger, who went on to reminisce about the show’s humble beginnings in 2000 and its becoming the worldwide phenomenon it is today.

“From the bottom of my heart,” she said tearfully, “thank you for the time of my life.”

The room erupted in applause.

Afterward, Helgenberger was presented with a collection of her personal props (she’s taking home Catherine’s vest and badge) and a goodbye cake that featured edible photos of her present and past costars, including Billy Petersen (Gil Grissom) and Gary Dourdan (Warrick Brown). Helgenberger, whose costume for the night included a flattering pair of tight jeans and a trendy leather jacket, was visibly moved by all the attention but tried to keep it light. “I won’t miss swabbing inside of someone’s mouth,” she quipped.

“You say that now,” replied someone in the crew.

Sadly, Petersen — who retains a producer credit – was not there, but the rest of the cast was on hand to say goodbye, such as Danson (D.B. Russell), George Eads (Nick Stokes), Paul Guilfoyle (Capt. Jim Brass), Jorja Fox (Sara Sidle), Eric Szmanda (Greg Sanders), Robert David Hall (Dr. Al Robbins) David Berman (David Phillips), Wallace Langham (David Hodges), Jon Wellner (Henry Andrews), and Elisabeth Harnois (Morgan Brody).

Hugging Helgenberger, Guilfoyle declared, “we still look the same!” (He, too, has been on the show since the beginning). Hall, meanwhile, gave the actress a big kiss — a stark contrast from his first days on set with Helgenberger nearly 12 years ago, when he too awestruck to stand next to her. “She is such a beautiful person,” he recalled to EW. “I could only speak jibberish.”

For more photos from Helgenberger’s last night on set, go to (Photo by Kacy Lee)

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