TV show finales that blew everyone away

The finale of one of your favorite TV shows is always a momentous occasion. Over the years, series finales have become more than just a period at the end of a show's run, evolving into a cultural phenomenon. Fans gather for huge watch parties, glued to their TVs as the seconds tick down to the final moments. Whether the ending turns out to be fulfilling, shocking, disappointing, or mind-numbingly sad, finales leave fans talking for years. Let's take a look at some of the greatest final episodes of all time—and fair warning, if you haven't seen some of these shows, we plan to totally spoil the ending—so beware if you're planning a binge-watching session!

Six Feet Under

While it was on the air, Six Feet Under blended quirky and poignant elements about as well as any series in recent memory, so it isn't surprising that its finale was a little bit of both. Fans of the Fisher family watched in stunned silence as youngest sibling Claire left California for a job in New York; as the desert scenery flashed past her window, we saw flashes of the future for the rest of the main characters. In typical Six Feet Under style, we got a glimpse of what happens to the family—including how they die. If you're not crying by the end of this one, then you probably have no soul.

Regular Show

After eight seasons, fans of the Cartoon Network animated series Regular Show said farewell to Mordecai and Rigby for good in January 2017. The epic and emotional finale was anything but regular, as the cast teamed up for a final battle with the fate of the universe in the balance. Pops finally realized what he had to do to save the universe, sacrificing himself by throwing himself and the evil Anti-Pops into the sun. The fabric of existence saved, fans were treated to a view of a future in which park gang moves on with their lives and attends a reunion and memorial for Pops, 25 years later.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

As the title of the final Star Trek: The Next Generation episode references, all good things have to come to an end—in this case, after seven great seasons of highly acclaimed television. The series frequently explored social and ethical issues as the crew probed the depths of space, and the finale was no exception. In the final episode, now considered one of the best of the series, Captain Picard finds his mind jumping through three separate timelines, which forces him to think critically to solve the anomaly forced upon him by the omnipotent being Q. The quick-thinking Picard manages to solve the conundrum, and the show ends with a love letter to fans as the captain joins a poker game with the other crew members for the first time.

Breaking Bad

During its five-year run, Breaking Bad evolved from just another TV drama into a cultural phenomenon. When the series finally drew to a close in 2013, fans eagerly anticipated an episode that promised to wrap up an epic saga of crime, greed, and vengeance—which the show delivered with an installment in which Walt returns from hiding and manages to secure his family's future, exact his revenge, and save Jesse from captivity before going down in a blaze of glory. The way the final scene played out was a direct punch to the gut for fans—as Badfinger's "Baby Blue" plays in the background, Walt lovingly examines the lab one last time. Even as the sirens approach in the distance, you wonder if he might not make it out alive, after all—until he collapses to the ground, succumbing to a bullet wound.

St. Elsewhere

One of the most popular medical dramas of the '80s, St. Elsewhere followed the personal and professional lives of doctors and nurses in a less-than-prestigious Boston hospital as they make life-and-death decisions about the often-impoverished patients they serve. After six seasons and 13 Emmy awards, the show drew to a close in 1988, with a unique twist on the "it was all a dream" TV trope: a final scene revealing that the entire chronicles of St. Eligius exist solely within the mind of Tommy, the autistic son of "Doctor" Westphall. The revelation that Tommy imagined the entire series with the aid of a snow globe has spawned countless tributes and references in other popular TV shows, and there's even a theory that dozens of other series—including many of the others on our list—are really part of the "Tommy Westphall Universe."

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Out of Joss Whedon's many television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is perhaps the most beloved, generating legions of fans who still obsess about the show to this day. For the finale, Whedon pitted the Scooby Gang against a malevolent enemy in a battle that required the characters to work together in one last showdown in the depths below Sunnydale High. As you might expect from a show that never shied away from mortality and death, not everyone makes it out alive. As the survivors flee from the wreckage in a schoolbus, Dawn poses the question many fans were asking as the credits rolled: "What are we going to do now?"

M*A*S*H

In perhaps one of the most emotionally charged TV episodes of all time, the doctors and nurses of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit said farewell to viewing audiences with a massive 150-minute special finale. While the entire episode is filled with that clever mix of tender, funny, and tragic that made M*A*S*H such a success, there are a couple of standout moments.

In one such scene, Hawkeye—sitting in a psych ward—relives a memory of hiding on a bus from an enemy patrol, recounting how a woman on the bus smothered a squawking chicken to keep them safe from the approaching soldiers. We slowly realize (along with Hawkeye, as he realizes the truth he's been hiding from himself) that the woman actually smothered her own baby to keep it silent at his behest. Later, at the end of the episode, Hawkeye and BJ bid each other farewell, and as Hawkeye's helicopter lifts off, we see the message BJ left for him (and the over 100 million viewers that tuned into the finale): GOODBYE.

Cheers

Despite being one of the most fondly remembered series finales today, the final episode of Cheers originally drew a fair amount of criticism: some fans were upset by the fact that Sam and Diane didn't end up together, as many hoped would happen. Nearly 100 million viewers tuned in to watch "One for the Road," which—quibbles aside—managed to wrap up the storylines for most of the eccentric crew that hung out at Cheers. In a final poignant scene, Sam ended the show by letting a would-be patron (and the viewing audience) know, "Sorry, we're closed," while turning out the lights in the bar for good.

Newhart

For eight years, fans laughed along with Bob Newhart while he dealt with strange guests and hilarious situations as the innkeeper in a small Vermont town. For the series finale, Newhart also went the "it was all a dream" route, but with a shocking (and hilarious) meta twist. After making a stubborn stand against Japanese developers who want to buy up the town, Newhart's character Dick Loudon collapsed after taking a golf ball to the head—only to wake up as Dr. Bob Hartley, from his previous series, the Bob Newhart Show. Turning dazedly to his Bob Newhart Show wife, Suzanne Pleshette, he tells her he had the strangest dream—and she sarcastically advises him that he should lay off the Japanese food before bed.

Lost

Lost was one of those shows you either loved or hated. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that the series finale was also extremely polarizing, even for longtime fans of the series. While the writers didn't completely cop out in the storytelling, many viewers were disappointed by the number of mysteries left unsolved, as well as the suggestion that the flash-sideways setting was a form of purgatory. Nevertheless, the episode scored multiple Emmy nominations, and the show's creators managed to resolve some of those lingering questions with a DVD-exclusive epilogue.

Seinfeld

On the night Seinfeld concluded its acclaimed run, more than 76 million people tuned in to say farewell to America's favorite misanthropes. Show creator Larry David turned the episode into a who's-who of Seinfeld cameos, as characters from the show's past returned to testify against Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer as character witnesses in a trial. While some fans disliked the episode for being turned into a morality play, others loved it for the cameos—and for giving the four main characters their just desserts after all their years of casually callous behavior. Jerry closed out the show with a final stand-up routine, performing in an orange jumpsuit for his disinterested fellow prisoners, which ultimately upheld David's overarching credo for the show: "no hugging, no learning."

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights was always more about the cast of characters than the sport of football, and when millions tuned into the finale, they were treated to an episode that focused on the lives of the characters long after the last pass was thrown and the cheers of the crowd faded away. The state championship in the past, the characters are shown in the future, with many storylines neatly wrapped up. Most importantly, Coach Taylor finally got to move on, building a new life for himself with his wife in Philadelphia.

Sons of Anarchy

From 2008 to 2014, Sons of Anarchy lit up our screens with its high-powered, intense crime drama chronicling the lives of Jax Teller, his extended family, and the other members of the SAMCRO biker club. The final installment of an often bloody, always exciting modern Shakespearean tragedy, the series finale was just as bloody and tragic, as Jax eluded police on a high-speed chase before committing suicide by deliberately driving into the path of an oncoming semi. While many fans praised his decision as being a selfless way of saving his children's future, Jax still managed to be completely selfish in the end—just think of that poor truck driver, probably scarred for life by the incident.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mary Tyler Moore broke boundaries for generations of women with her self-titled series. The first major female character on American television to forsake marriage for her career—a far cry from her previous role as homemaker Laura Petrie on the The Dick Van Dyke Show—Moore's Mary Richards led viewers on a humorous and occasionally poignant look at workplace dynamics, and often wove important social and political issues into the fabric of the stories. For the finale, millions of viewers tuned in to watch as the cast said farewell to WJM-TV for the last time in an emotional episode centered on the show's main characters being fired from the studio.