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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Meredith Vieira marked her final appearance as a popular co-host of NBC's top-rated "Today" show on Wednesday with an emotional farewell, telling her fans: "I will never leave you."
Vieira, who took the anchor job five years ago alongside Matt Lauer, was lauded with a two-hour broadcast dominated by tributes and remembrances from co-workers and celebrities and clips that ran from light-hearted to emotion-charged.
A clearly emotional Vieira, flanked by the show's Al Roker, Lauer and Ann Curry who will become the new co-host, said: "It's such a family, and it's really hard to leave a family, but I'm not going to say good-bye at all."
She reiterated that her own family was the main factor for leaving. "I know it's right, but it's hard," she said.
She displayed a charm her husband Richard Cohen gave her when she started the job that was inscribed with his and their children's names and read: "We are with you."
"I'm taking this off after the show, and I'm going to pawn it," she joked.
Turning serious, she said: "I'm going to put it in a safe place, and all of you I'm putting in my heart so I'll never ever leave you."
Lauer paid tribute to Vieira's humor and said she made him laugh "every single day."
"I have marveled over the fact that with someone who's got talent as large as yours, how small your ego is," he said. "You've taught us all how to be great teammates."
The show featured taped tributes from celebrities including Martha Stewart, Jay Leno and Jack Black, who sang an excerpt from "Candle in the Wind."
Legendary songwriter Carole King appeared in the studio to serenade Vieira with a favorite song, "You've Got a Friend."
Vieira, one of the original hosts of ABC's "The View," will continue to host the game show "Millionaire."
Her departure is one of several recent high-profile changes in network television posts. Katie Couric, who hosted the "Today" show prior to Vieira, left CBS last month to be replaced by Scott Pelley on its nightly news broadcast.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune