LONDON (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of people cheered, sang patriotic songs and waved Union Jack flags outside Buckingham Palace in a spectacular finale to four days of celebrations honoring Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the British throne.
The 86-year-old beamed at the throng and waved from the balcony of the palace, accompanied by the senior members of her family with one notable absentee - Prince Philip, her husband of 64 years who was taken ill with a bladder infection on Monday.
It was one of the few grand state occasions in her life when he has not been present, taking some of the gloss off what has widely been seen as a triumphant diamond jubilee that has reinforced the popularity of the queen and the monarchy.
The grand Mall avenue leading to the queen's London residence was turned into a sea of red, white and blue as well-wishers flooded the road to hail the queen before a flypast led by the Spitfires which won the Battle of Britain and concluded with an aerobatic display by the Royal Air Force's Red Arrows.
Celebrations outside Buckingham Palace closed when soldiers fired a rifle salute, then thrust their bearskin hats in the air to lead the crowds beyond the palace gates in a rousing three cheers to the queen, the only British monarch other than Queen Victoria to have reigned for 60 years.
As the ecstatic crowd roared its approval, Elizabeth flanked by son and heir Charles, his wife Camilla, Prince William and his new wife Kate as well as brother Harry, gave one final wave before heading inside.
"I don't think we'll see anything like this again in my generation. It was wonderful," said Joseph Afrane, 49, a photographer who was wearing a red, white and blue Union Jack flag waistcoat and hat.
Millions have attended street parties, watched a spectacular 1,000-vessel pageant on the River Thames in London on Sunday and a concert in front of Buckingham Palace on Monday, all held in honor of Elizabeth II.