Mourners in parkas wailed, cried and stamped their feet as the convoy bearing the late leader's coffin passed. Some struggled to get past security personnel holding back the crowd.
Son and successor Kim Jong Un escorted his father's hearse on the gray day in Pyongyang. At the end of the procession, rifles fired 21 times as the younger Kim stood surrounded by top party and military officials, who are expected to be his inner circle of advisers.
To call the grief broadcasted on state TV over the top would be an understatement. But citizens are taught from birth to revere their leader.
In the past, North Korea staged synchronized ceremonies, such as one introducing Kim Jong Un to his people last June.
But not shown to the world are the hundreds of thousands believed to be in prison camps. The United Nations estimates a quarter of the population is starving.
Analysts say Kim Jong Un is well on his way to solidifying his power, but his age and inexperience leaves questions about his long-term prospects. His late father was groomed for power for 20 years before taking over, while the younger Kim has had only about two years.
He also faces the challenges of running a country that struggles to feed its people even as it pursues a nuclear weapons program that has earned it international sanctions and condemnation.
There's a concerted effort to show Kim Jong Un in control, but most North Korean experts believe his 65-year-old uncle is actually pulling the strings behind the scenes, which leads to concern about a future power struggle in the country.
Kim Jong Il - who led with absolute power after his father Kim Il Sung's death in 1994, through a famine that killed hundreds of thousands and the pursuit of nuclear and missile programs - died of a heart attack Dec. 17 at age 69.
The late leader's two other sons, Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Chol, were not spotted at the procession.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.