05/18/2011 09:05 am ET | Updated Jul 18, 2011

Oprah Fans Gather In Chicago For United Center Taping: 'She's Like A Sister To Us'

They came from across the nation and from all over Chicago, with several wearing homemade Oprah t-shirts and with one woman sporting the letters O-P-R-A-H on her head, to say farewell to the most successful talk show of the last quarter century and to be surprised -- along with Oprah Winfrey -- as star after star strolled out to tell her "thank you."

Thousands of fans at the United Center cheered Tuesday night as Tom Hanks told Oprah, "Today you are surrounded by nothing but love."

They continued clapping as Tom Cruise segued into Jackie Evancho, Josh Groban and Patti LaBelle, who all came out singing and roared when Beyonce, Diane Sawyer, Halle Berry, Rascal Flatts, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Stevie Wonder, Simon Cowell, Jerry Seinfeld, Maria Shriver, Rosie O' Donnell, Maya Angelou, Alicia Keys, Aretha Franklin and Usher took the stage. But the audience stood and clapped loudest of all when Oprah herself, wearing a dark purple dress, first walked onto the stage to say hello.

"Wow!" she would exclaim minutes later, a sentiment echoed by the fans lucky enough to score tickets from a random lottery, as those from Madonna to Queen Latifah to viewers around the world called her an inspiration.

"Wow!" echoed Shaindy Kompel, 35, of West Rogers Park, standing inside the United Center after the four-hour-long taping. "It was mind-blowing."

Her friend, Orah Frankenthal, 36, also of West Rogers Park, wore a homemade green T-shirt saying "Awesome Friend Who Took Me to Oprah" with an arrow pointing to Kompel. Frankenthal said the show was "overwhelming to watch and filled with so much energy."

Even Oprah seemed floored by all the love, saying a few times during the show that she needed to "process it."

By the time the doors opened at 5 p.m., a line of fans had snaked around the United Center, even though everyone had an assigned seat. One of those fans waiting to enter was Victoria King, who had tears drawn in eyebrow pencil on her head.

"She is like a big sister to us," King said of Oprah's impact on Chicago. "She offered to listen to us every day, whenever we needed her, and when she got famous, she was all about giving back."

At the prospect of the end of Oprah's show in Chicago, King, 56, of the Gold Coast, pointed to her head, saying, "big tears."

Nearby, Linda Petzke, along with daughters Christina Petzke and Diane Murphy and daughter-in-law Leann Petzke, all from Chicago's western suburbs, had lined up outside of the United Center five hours before show time to ensure they would get inside before the festivities began.

They had watched Oprah for more than two decades, since she hosted "AM Chicago," which would become "The Oprah Winfrey Show," and Murphy called her "the teacher of all teachers."

The impact Oprah had on Chicago, they added, has been immeasurable.

"Most things happen in L.A. or New York," Leann Petzke said. "I think she gave Chicago a voice."

As for Winfrey, after clapping, crying, dancing and laughing through the evening, she told the audience that "I've never experienced anything like this" and thanked them "for taking me to a place that is beyond joyous."

That joy, and a sense of an iconic Chicago moment, impacted the fans, as well.

"Everything felt like I was a part of history," Kompel said as she exited the United Center. "I kept thinking of how amazing it was to be here."

Check out photos from the show here:

Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular