After long goodbye, Jon Stewart signs off from 'The Daily Show'

NEW YORK - His "Daily Show" set is being donated to Washington's Newseum and 19 of his custom-made show suits have been auctioned off for a disability charity It's been a very long goodbye, but Jon Stewart ends his 16-year stint at "The Daily Show" on Thursday, leaving little hint of what he will do next.

Stewart, who announced his departure in February, leaves thousands of grieving fans and an outpouring of media tributes debating his legacy as the nation's most popular political satirist.

"Why Jon Stewart Might Be Irreplaceable," wrote Hollywood trade paper Variety this week.

The New York Daily News called him "The comic who became a conscience."

With its biting satire, juxtaposed TV news clips, "fake news" correspondents, and "Moment of Zen" sign-off, Stewart's influence on political life and pop culture far outweighed the show's small, under two million nightly Comedy Central audience.

More than 200,000 people turned out for his 2010 Washington "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" with Stephen Colbert.

His"Daily Show" won 18 Emmy Awards in as many years. "When he is going on all cylinders that show could be absolutely breath-taking and really informative and important to the civic conversation," said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture.

"People used to watch some of this goofy stuff that goes on in TV news and didn't think anything about it. But as you see the 100th montage where Stewart shows how all these cliches are repeated across the board, you don't look at TV news in the same way," Thompson added Stewart, a stand up comedian who last year released his first movie - the political drama "Rosewater" - has given few clues as to what he will do next.

Announcing his departure in February, he said he'd just become weary. "I've been doing this too long," he said.

"Honestly, it's breaking me. I'm broken." Fans, many of whom have grown up relying on "The Daily Show"as their main source of news, are distraught.

"I've watched @TheDailyShow from the start which was also my 1st yr of college. I've grown old w him," tweeted Lauren Cummings on the "#jonvoyage" Twitter handle set up for farewell tributes.

Alys Arden wrote that Jon Stewart leaving "is starting to feel like a boyfriend breaking up with me."