Parks & Recreation - "One Last Ride"
Original airdate: February 24, 2015
The final season of Parks & Rec was set several years in the future, and in the finale we jump even further into the future to see the successes that met our characters. Most notably, it is hinted that Leslie was eventually elected to President of the United States (though it is never confirmed); Larry became mayor of Pawnee and served the city until he died at 100; Ron gets his dream job as a park superintendent for the National Parks Service, which means he gets to live in a cabin in a national park, hunting and fishing and not interacting with the public. My personal favorite storyline is that April and Andy have a baby, on Halloween, and when they go to the hospital, the nurse suggests they take off April's zombie makeup. April fiercely refuses, explaining she put the makeup on after she went into labor.
Seinfeld - "The Finale"
Original airdate: May 14, 1998
I am going out on a limb here. I might be the only one who liked the last episode of Seinfeld. Don't get me wrong; it wasn't the greatest episode. It wasn't as funny as so many others, and I didn't like the flashbacks, but I love the overall message: a show about nothing, and the characters went to prison for doing nothing.
M*A*S*H - "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen"
Original airdate: February 28, 1983
The finale broke records around the world. When it aired on February 28, 1983, CBS was getting more for a 30-second ad during the finale than NBC got for that year's Super Bowl. In fact, the ratings for the finale, two-and-a-half hour episode were higher than those for the Super Bowl. "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" was the highest rated television program in history until 2010, when Super Bowl XLIV overtook it. It still stands today as the highest-rated series finale of all time.
Mad Men - "Person to Person"
Original airdate: May 17, 2015
I wasn't sure that I would like Don Draper, the often cold, hard professional, suddenly turning into a soft human man. But you know what? I did. It was a beautiful, subtle transition that was well developed over the course of the entire series. It wasn't jarring; it was like the producers had the whole thing planned all along. The suggestion that it was Don who invented the "Buy the World a Coke" advert was a beautiful end to a rocky yet successful career.
Breaking Bad - "Felina"
Original airdate: September 29, 2013
You knew Walt was going to die. If it wasn't his increasingly-violent meth business, it would be the cancer that caused him to "break bad" in the first place. Walter had done too many bad things to have any hope of clemency, and the show did not disappoint. A lot of people died as Walt tried to... not fix things, but at least make sure that his criminal activity didn't go to waste. He put money away for his kids, said goodbye to his wife, and saved his former partner Jesse (even though he originally tried to have him killed and the hitman-for-hire took Jesse as his gang's meth-slave). It wasn't necessarily the most groundbreaking way to end a show, but it was honest and heartfelt and wrapped up all the loose ends.
Six Feet Under - "Everyone's Waiting"
Original airdate: August 21, 2005
I stand by Six Feet Under as the best series finale ever. All the stories were wrapped up neatly, and in the remaining 10 minutes, we got to see all the main characters' deaths. The series, about a family of morticians, always opened with a death, fading to a white screen with the person's name, year of birth, and year of death. We get one of those for every character. It is not only beautifully shot (with "Breathe Me" by Sia playing in the background) and in keeping with the theme of the series, it gives the viewer closure. In just a few scenes, we get a perfect snapshot of the lives of the characters. It gives a true sense of closure to the series.
30 Rock - "Hogcock!/Last Lunch"
Original airdate: January 31, 2013
There were so many brilliant story threads in this finale, tying up a truly brilliant TV series. TGS is over, and Liz Lemon has become a stay-at-home mother while Criss gets a job. The two realize it doesn't work for them and switch roles. Luckily it turns out that if TGS goes less than 150 episodes, Tracy gets a huge payout, so Liz returns to make one more episode. Along the way, Tracy refuses to go along with the show, but not because he wants his payout but because he is no good at saying goodbye. Jack has a midlife crisis and Liz thinks he may kill himself, but he is just going to sail around the world and find himself; luckily he "finds himself" about 14 seconds into his voyage and he goes on to become the CEO of GE. In the final scene of the series, the immortal Kenneth, who went from page to network president overnight, is listening to Liz's great-granddaughter pitch him a show about Liz's work. It is super-meta and super-sci-fi that doesn't feel out of place in any way.
Newhart - "The Last Newhart"
Original airdate: May 21, 1990
The first series to pull off the "It's all a dream" trope, and the only to do it successfully. Bob Newhart goes to sleep as the Vermont innkeeper he played on Newhart and wakes up as Bob Newhart, the Chicago therapist he played a decade prior in The Bob Newhart Show - complete with his wife from the former show. The eight season Newhart was all The Bob Newhart Show's dream.
The Colbert Report
Original airdate: December 18, 2014
Regardless of your politics, you had to admire Stephen Colbert, who spent a brilliant nine years almost completely in character, on screen and off. Colbert went off to "bigger and better" things, taking over The Late Show when David Letterman left, and going from Stephen Colbert, faux right-wing pundit to Stephen Colbert, regular guy. But his final Report was a blowout. He killed "Grimmy," the Grim Reaper who appeared at the start of Colbert's "Cheating Death" segment. This made Colbert immortal, leaving open the possibility that, even though his show was dead, Colbert-the-pundit never would be. Instead of saying goodbye, Colbert sings "We'll Meet Again Someday," along with a slew of celebrities, journalists, and politicians who have dropped by the show over the years. In the end, Colbert rides off into the sunset with Abraham Lincoln, Alex Trebek ("the man with all the answers") and Santa Claus, cementing his place in history. The beginning and end of the show features wrap-arounds with Jon Stewart, suggesting that the last nine years were just one really, really long Daily Show segment.
The Sopranos - "Made In America"
Original airdate: June 10, 2007
You either love it or hate it. I happened to love it - though not at the time. When The Sopranos first went off the air, I, like many viewers, thought the show literally went off the air in the middle of the finale. It looked like the cable went out as Tony was enjoying a snack with his family in a diner when a few angry-looking men entered the establishment. The cable was fine; this was how creator David Chase decided to end the show. Normally, such an open-ended finale (even though Tony was essentially retired, was he about to be whacked?) would drive me crazy, but it felt somehow appropriate. In Breaking Bad, you knew Walt was going to die one way or another. But with Tony, there was always that 50/50 chance that he would live or die in any given episode. It seems fitting to leave the audience wondering.