Then, with much of the sellout crowd still in the Stadium and still on its feet, Rivera emerged, broke through a sea of photographers and walked to the mound. He toed the rubber, got down on one knee and grabbed some dirt.
Seconds later he walked off that mound, ending his illustrious career.
"It definitely was a magical moment," Rivera said after the Yankees' 4-0 loss to the Rays. "I've had an opportunity to play for 19 years and give the best of my talents and my ability to this organization. Tonight it paid off. The fans, they definitely appreciate that. My family, my wife, my kids, the fans -- it was amazing. A great night. We lost, so I don't know how I'm saying that, but it was a great night."
Rivera entered the game in the eighth inning with runners on first and second and one out and the Yankees trailing by four runs, but the situation hardly mattered.
The 48,675 fans in the Stadium all rose to their feet when manager Joe Girardi walked out of the dugout and signaled to the bullpen. Bob Sheppard's voiced introduced Rivera, Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blared over the public-address system and No. 42 jogged out of the Yankees' bullpen one last time.
He tipped his cap to the crowd and to the Rays, who'd come out of their dugout to pay tribute, then proceeded to retire designated hitter Delmon Young and center fielder Sam Fuld on six pitches.
"I've been with Mo since '96," an emotional Girardi said. "Had a lot of great times. He made my job fun, he made my job easy. But probably more important than that, he made all our lives better. And we'll miss him."
The Yankees recorded two hits in the bottom of the eighth, but Rivera wasn't in the dugout to see either of them. Although he would normally watch the team bat from the bench, he spent this particular evening sitting in the trainer's room, trying to regain his composure.
"Everything started hitting me from there," he said. "All the flashbacks, from the Minor Leagues to the big leagues, all the way to this moment. It was a little hard. I was able to compose myself and come back out."
Rivera needed just seven pitches to record the first two outs of the ninth inning, getting catcher Jose Lobaton to ground out to the pitcher's mound and shortstop Yunel Escobar to pop out to second base. Then something special happened.
Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter walked out of the dugout to remove their longtime teammate and friend from the game. Pettitte signaled to the bullpen -- Matt Daley finished the game -- and Jeter took the ball from Rivera and told him it was "time to go."
An emotional Rivera hugged both Pettitte and Jeter as the rest of the infielders surrounded him. With tears in his eyes, he walked off the mound, waving his cap to the crowd before embracing Girardi on the top step of the dugout.
After Rivera hugged the rest of his teammates and coaches in the dugout, the sellout crowd coaxed him out for his final Yankee Stadium curtain call.
"Thank God that [Pettitte and Jeter] came out," he said. "I don't know how I got those two guys out. It was amazing; I was trying to stop. I don't know what I was trying to do. It was totally a different feeling.
"They both came to get me out, and I was thankful they came out. … I needed them there, and they were there."
Girardi came up with the plan to send Pettitte and Jeter to the mound during the eighth. He approached home-plate umpire Laz Diaz after the inning to see if he was allowed to send a player to remove a pitcher and, after getting the OK from crew chief Mike Winters, asked if he could send two.
Both umpires agreed.
"I really appreciate that, because I think it made the moment even more special for Mo," Girardi said. "Two guys that have been linked to him a long time, came up through the Minor Leagues, have been through a lot together. I think it made the moment even more special."
"I thought it was cool. It was cool to be a part of. I had never taken a pitcher out of the game before," Jeter said. "I'm glad I got to be the one to take him out with Andy. If you're going to take a guy out, it might as well be Mo. I'm happy I was able to do it. Like I said before, we've all grown up together. It's too bad that good things have to come to an end."
"My first thought was, 'Ahh, I don't know. That might be a little weird,'" Pettitte said. "Then everybody on the bench, all the guys, were like, 'You've got to do it.' I'm so glad we did. Just a great moment. The emotion of him and us, to be able to be out there and share that with him, it was awfully cool. It's going to be something that obviously I'll never forget."
It was an emotional night for Pettitte, too, as it was also his final game in Yankee Stadium after making his last start in the Bronx on Sunday, against the Giants. In fact, after Rivera was removed from the game, the crowd also coaxed Pettitte out of the dugout before the bottom of the ninth for his own curtain call.
"I didn't expect for [Rivera] to be quite so emotional," Pettitte said. "He broke down and just gave me a bear hug, and I just bear-hugged him back. He was really crying. He was weeping. I could feel him crying on me. I think I was just telling him, 'Man, you've been so awesome to play with.' Just sharing stuff with him that I've already told him and he knows. Just telling him that I appreciate it and I love him. It's just been an honor to play alongside him."
The Rays exited their dugout and applauded Rivera again when he was taken out of the game.
"As much history as I've seen with this team, that was, hands down, the coolest," said Rays starter David Price, who surrendered Jeter's 3,000th hit. "It's not just because we won. Just because of the player that he is and the way that he's conducted himself. Just the complete class act. And he should be the last person to ever wear 42. He deserves that right."
Rivera pitched 1 1/3 perfect innings in his final Yankee Stadium appearance, and he'll finish his career with a Major League-record 314 saves in his home ballpark. The outing dropped his career ERA to 2.209, carrying him past Eddie Cicotte (2.210) for the best ERA in history for a pitcher who has pitched more than 1,000 innings.
But Rivera's final moments in pinstripes won't be about stats or numbers. They will be about the emotional end of a storied 19-year career in the Bronx.
"I was bombarded with emotions and feelings that I couldn't describe," Rivera said. "Everything hit at that time. I knew that that was the last time, period. I never felt something like that before."