China unveiled an extravagant farewell to the Olympics on Sunday and David Beckham, the world's most famous football player, said hello by kicking a ball to start the countdown to London 2012.
The appearance of Beckham on top of a red double-decker bus that unfolded into a hedge-clipped silhouette of London sent 91,000 fans into a frenzy in the futuristic Bird's Nest stadium.
A grinning Beckham kicked the ball off the top of the bus into the hands of a delighted Games volunteer.
The London segment was woven into a spectacular closing ceremony that wrapped up a $43 billion Games designed to showcase China's might, modernity and sporting prowess.
A ring of fireworks exploded round the rim of the stadium. Two giant drums were hoisted into the sky with two pairs of suspended drummers thumping out a hypnotic beat.
The stadium was turned into a kaleidscope of glittering colours with 200 acrobats taking giant leaps and somersaulting across a stage on spring-heeled stilts.
Launching a huge party to wrap up the greatest sporting show on earth, thousands of athletes poured in from all four corners of the stadium, blowing kisses and waving flags.
The towering figure of Chinese basketball player Yao Ming was seen grinning from ear to ear.
Beckham, brought up in east London, hailed Beijing's success but told Reuters before the ceremony: "I'm sure we will be better than them, without a doubt."
Britain's eight-minute chance to tell the world what the London Games would offer the world in 2012 featured guitarist Jimmy Page, who launched into the riff from "Whole Lotta Love".
He was joined in the Led Zeppelin classic by TV talent show winner and chart-topping singer Leona Lewis.
Queen Elizabeth also sanctioned a choral version of "God Save The Queen" backed by lush string arrangements.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson, his normally dishevelled blond hair carefully coiffed for the occasion, took over the Olympic Flag and waved it proudly, especially after Britain's best gold medal performance for a century.
"This is a short, sharp shock that fires the starting gun for London," said organiser Martin Green who rehearsed the British show for two weeks at a private airfield outside Beijing.