Credit: Comedy Central

Truly, it's the end of a Colbera.

And what an end it was! The final episode of The Colbert Report—which began, as his shows often did, with a toss from Colbert's old boss/buddy Jon Stewart—started off slow; the faux pundit didn't even formally acknowledge that tonight's half-hour would be his last until halfway through his first segment.

That's when he offered up his very last Word: "Same to You, Pal." The bit gave Colbert a chance to riff on how little has truly changed since this series debuted in 2005—once again, we've got people on TV defending torture, a Bush governor running for president, and troops being sent into Iraq—and to give an earnest (but not too earnest) thank-you to his loyal fans, the Colbert Nation. As Colbert said, the "incredible things people say I did" weren't accomplished by him alone: "None of that was really me. You, the nation, did all of that. I just got paid for it."

His words were predictable, but heartfelt—exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to see from a talk show host's last broadcast.

And that's when things got weird.

Colbert's listed guest for tonight was "Grimmy"—a.k.a. the Grim Reaper, a character listed on the series' website as "Stephen's colleague and lifelong friend." We've seen him before on the show, in the Seventh Seal-inspired opening titles for the recurring segment "Cheating Death with Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A." Those same titles welcomed Grimmy to the show once again tonight, playing as they have several times in the past—until Colbert and the Reaper's old chess game took a dramatic new turn.

An abrupt cut to the green screen where Colbert and Grimmy were shooting their bit revealed that this time, Colbert had successfully collected all three of the Deathly Hallows accidentally murdered his old pal Grimmy with his favorite handgun. Which, as the host quickly realized, meant that he'd officially achieved immortality. (So much for all those theories that the real Colbert was planning to kill off this character before moving to CBS next year.)

After the next commercial break, the newly-"immortal" Colbert ushered in the segment we'd all tacitly been waiting for: a celebrity-stuffed sing-along, featuring what was perhaps the most gloriously random assortment of boldfaced names ever assembled in one room.

A partial list of the folks who showed up in person to sing the old standard "We'll Meet Again" with Colbert: Randy Newman (on the piano, natch), Jon Stewart (of course), Bryan Cranston, Willie Nelson, Mandy Patinkin, Tom Brokaw, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Big Bird, Cyndi Lauper, Sam Waterston, Katie Couric, Gloria Steinem, Cookie Monster, James Franco, Michael Stipe, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Barry Manilow, Jeff Daniels, Andy Cohen, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Patrick Stewart, Ariana Huffington, George Lucas, Alan Alda, New Jersey senator Cory Booker, Elijah Wood, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, Tim Meadows, Keith Olbermann, Shane Smith, Ken Burns, Mark Cuban, Paul Krugman, Mike Huckabee, Grover Norquist, and Henry Kissinger. Vince Gilligan, still being held captive in Colbert's basement, joined via video; so did Bill Clinton (tweeting with the account Colbert built for him), and a troop of soldiers in Afghanistan, and Colbert's Latino alter ego Esteban Colberto, and J.J. Abrams, and Smaug the dragon, and an astronaut running on the C.O.L.B.E.R.T. treadmill in space.

It was, in short, a thrilling game of spot-the-celebrity Where's Waldo—but that wasn't the end of the show.

Instead, the final Report ended with Colbert traveling to the roof of his studio to meet up with three more immortals: Santa Claus, Abraham Lincoln (who, by the way, is actually a unicorn), and "the one with all the answers." For one heart-stopping moment, I thought that meant Papa Bear Bill O'Reilly—but no, the trio was completed by Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek. (His best line: "The important answers must all be in the form of a question.")

Colbert ended the show flying off in Santa's sleigh, thanking everyone who's helped to make the Report possible for the past nine years—then tossing back to Jon Stewart, who introduced one last concluding clip, a gag-reel-worthy moment of Stewart/Colbert interaction from 2010.

Ending the show this way was a savvy move that helps remind audiences that, yes, the "Stephen Colbert" we've been watching for nearly a decade isn't the real Stephen Colbert. Symbolically, it's the perfect way to transition into Colbert finally taking on the role of his true self. At the same time, Fake Colbert's passage into "immortality" indicates that Real Colbert may not be ready to let go of his old persona quite yet; after all, the man who helmed the Report is just a sleigh ride away.

And either way—when it comes to this show, at least—we know who's truly getting the last word:

The Colbert Report
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