At least 150,000 people flocked to St. Peter's early in the morning to say goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI on the last public appearance of his eight-year papacy.
People waved flags, chanted the pope's name and waved banners saying "Thank you."
As Benedict emerged, driven in the popemobile in the sun-basked square, the crowd erupted in long applause and chanted "Benedetto, Benedetto." Many children were handed to the pontiff for a blessing.
On the eve of his historic resignation as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics -- the first pope to do so in six centuries -- Benedict recalled moments of "joy and light" during his papacy, but also hard times.
Benedict thanked his applauding cardinals and colleagues for "understanding and respecting" his decision to resign.
Once he steps down, Benedict will still be addressed as "his holiness," keeping the name Benedict XVI. He will be known as the Roman pontiff emeritus, or pope emeritus.
He will no longer wear his trademark Prada red shoes, opting instead for a pair of hand-crafted brown loafers given to him by artisans in León, Mexico, during a visit last year.
The Swiss Guards in service to protect the head of the Catholic Church will go off duty as of 8 p.m. Wednesday.
The square slowly emptied, leaving only one day to the end of Benedict XVI's papacy.