Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Mo Farah delivered the signature performances of the Olympics as Great Britain shrugged off its grim economic worries to stage a memorable, record-breaking showpiece.
As the curtain came down on the 16-day spectacular at an Olympic Park built on a toxic, east London industrial wasteland, the hosts basked in plaudits.
"The country that invented modern sport has helped give new life to the spirit of fair play and competition," said International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.
"For two weeks, London became the beating heart of the world."
There was a glittering collection of memories from events played in and around some of the city's iconic sites.
Horse Guards Parade, in the shadow of Buckingham Palace and Whitehall, the heart of British political power, hosted beach volleyball.
Tennis was at Wimbledon, archery went to Lord's, the nerve-centre of cricket, while equestrian enjoyed the spectacular backdrop of Greenwich.
At check points, battle-hardened soldiers, fresh from tours of Afghanistan, donned high-visibility jackets instead of bullet-proof vests to patiently screen long lines of athletes and media.
On the track, it was Jamaican superstar Bolt who was sprinting into the record books, his double-triple of 100m, 200m and a world-record setting 4x100m relay exhausting superlatives.
"I'm now a legend, I'm the greatest athlete to live," said Bolt.
On the same night, Britain hailed Mo Farah's 5 000m-10 000m double, an emotional achievement for a man brought up in war-torn Somalia.
David Rudisha of Kenya set a world record in the 800m while the United States, who were to finish top of the medals table, shattered the 27-year-old record in the 4x100m womens relay.
There was no gold, but there was a slice of Olympic history for Oscar Pistorius on the Olympic track as the double-amputee who races on carbon-fiber blades competed against able-bodied runners in the 400m and 4x400m relay.
Phelps brought the curtain down on his career with four gold medals and two silvers, shattering the record for total medals in a career.
In fact, his 18 golds ended up matching the previous record for total medals amassed by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina – he was to finish with 22 altogether.
"Everything had to fall into place at the right time and everything had to be perfect. And it was," said Phelps.
As Phelps bowed out, a quartet of teenagers ensured there will be no lack of storylines when Rio 2016 rolls around.
America's Missy Franklin and surprise 800m free winner Katie Ledecky, Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte and China's Ye Shiwen were among the breakout stars poised to carry the sport forward.
Ye's tremendous finish in her world record-breaking 400m medley victory, however, prompted whispering in the Western press that provoked the ire of the Chinese team.
Australia – including swaggering world 100m champion James Magnussen –were the biggest losers.
With one gold medal, six silver and three bronze, it was their lowest tally since Barcelona in 1992.
Britain, who enjoyed their best Games for a century and finished third in the medals table, celebrated the middle Saturday with poster girl Jessica Ennis taking the heptathlon and Farah lighting up the track in the 5 000m.
The sweltering Velodrome rocked most nights, none more so than when Chris Hoy cycled to a sixth career gold to become Britain's most successful Olympian.
Out on the road, Bradley Wiggins added time-trial gold to his Tour de France triumph.
Andy Murray stunned Roger Federer at a heavily-rebranded Wimbledon to take the men's tennis title with Serena Williams collecting the women's title in a spectacular demolition of Maria Sharapova.
On the debit side, North Korea delivered the Games' first political punch, two days before the opening ceremony, when they refused to start their game against Colombia in Glasgow after flags of bitter rivals South Korea were shown next to photos of their players.
Eight badminton players were disqualified for not trying in a brazen attempt to engineer more comfortable paths to the women's doubles final.
There were plenty of tears too.
South Korean fencer Shin A-Lam was so distraught at a defeat that she staged a tearful, one-hour long sit-down protest.
Felix Sanchez also blubbed, this time on the podium after his 400m hurdles victory achieved against all the odds.
There were heroic performances.
Liu Xiang, China's track and field poster boy, suffered another Olympic Games which were over virtually before they had begun.
Four years after limping out of the heats in Beijing, Liu crashed into the first hurdle, ripped his Achilles but still managed to hop down the track to celebrate a symbolic finish.
US sprinter Manteo Mitchell suffered a broken leg running in the 4x400m relay semifinal, but still managed to finish.
The 2012 Games were a landmark also for women athletes.
Nicola Adams, Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields became the first three Olympic boxing champions while Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei sent their first women athletes.
Judoka Wojdan Shaherkani became the first ever female Saudi athlete to compete, but her historic debut lasted just 82 seconds following a protracted argument over whether or not she could wear a hijab.