There was no red carpet, but the event had the feel of a Hollywood awards ceremony, with stars taking the stage to praise, serenade, and even impersonate the next president.
Performers including Bono, Beyonce and James Taylor were on the bill.
A crowd expected to reach up to a half-million was stretched past the reflecting pool separating the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
Obama and his wife and Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, sat behind bullet-proof glass near the stage erected on the steps of the memorial.
The concert began with Springsteen, dressed in black, singing "The Rising," with the help of the choir, taking a song best known as a call to action following the 2001 terror attacks and using it to usher in a new era in American politics.
Denzel Washington was the first celebrity to speak, telling the crowd, "we are all in this together."
Another speaker was actor Tom Hanks, who as Forrest Gump famously gave a speech at the monument steps and jumped into the reflecting pool. This time, he appeared in a dark suit and read a somber tribute to Abraham Lincoln.
Jamie Foxx brought many in the crowd - and the Obamas - to their feet by repeatedly urging those from Chicago to make some noise: "Chi-town, stand up!" he demanded.
Foxx then launched into a quick impersonation of the president-elect.
Joe Biden told the crowd: "Look around you. Look at the grace and grandeur that surrounds us and you'll see the work of American hands."
The crowd threw their hands up for Garth Brooks' thumping rendition of "Shout!" supported by a massive choir wearing red and blue jackets against the cold.
The crowd, including Obama and Biden, were writhing when Stevie Wonder, Usher, and Shakira pumped out Wonder's classic "Higher Ground."
Sheryl Crow and will.i.am performed "One Love," and golf great Tiger Woods, the son of a military man, urged the audience to remember the sacrifices of military families.
The event began with a convocation by the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, who asked the crowd to pray for "understanding that our president is a human being and not a messiah."
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