In truth, just about everyone on The Big Bang Theory is an adorable geek — even comparative regular girl Penny (Kaley Cuoco). But Sheldon (Jim…

The Big Bang Theory taped its 279th and final episode of the show’s 12-season run Tuesday — an exuberant half-hour that is sure to tickle fans who are no doubt expecting a happy ending for the tenants of apartments 4A and 4B.

As fans know, the May 16 finale will be two-parter — the first segment of which was screened for the studio audience Tuesday before the final 22 minutes were performed live on soundstage 25 at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif. Some parts of the finale will feel just like another week in the wacky world of Big Bang: Yes, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) wears a superhero tee over a long-sleeved shirt, a few old friends stop by, and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) has plenty of fun poking at his longtime roommate. But in between solid jokes about sex, apartment decor, childcare and food, there are some tender and very unexpected surprises. And there’s at least two revelations that no one will see coming.

In between takes, Kaley Cuoco (Penny) lingered on stage and clapped with the audience while Galecki played some air guitar and wore a big grin. Maybe he was just trying to shake off the weepies: In one of his early scenes with Cuoco, it looked like he was truly on the verge of tears.

He finally shed them moments later. Before shooting the final scene of the episode, a choked-up Galecki addressed the crowd by saying, “This is a dream come true for all of us.”

“The Rhinitis Revelation” -- Coverage of CBS' THE BIG BANG THEORY scheduled to air on the CBS Television Network. Photo: SONJA FLEMMING/CBS ©2011 CBS BROADCASTING INC. All Rights Reserved.

“You’ve been the best fans for 12 years,” he continued. “You are a part of a family, and we love you very much.” He then called on Cuoco to join him, and she shared something series creator Chuck Lorre told the cast at their final table read: “The Big Bang Theory will live on in our hearts forever. It’s so sweet and simple, and it’s so true.”

Lorre, who was there with co-creator Bill Prady and the rest of the writers, snapped the clapboard for the last scene; it was met with raucous applause. During the final curtain call, the cast just waved to the audience and hugged each other. Prady, meanwhile, wandered about and looked bereft as the Green Day song “Time of Your Life” played over the studio speakers.

After the series finale of TBBT, CBS will present Unraveling the Mystery: A Big Bang Farewell. The half-hour special will feature Galecki and Cuoco as they take viewers behind the scenes of the long-running comedy. The duo will share backstage secrets, personal memories, and highlights from the sitcom’s record-breaking 279 episodes.

The series finale will air from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. ET on May 16.

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