The cast and crew of ABC's Modern Family took the stage for a fourth time to collect the trophy for outstanding comedy series. When saying thank you, show creator Steve Levitan took a slight swipe at the long and often somber telecast.
"Well, this may be the saddest Emmys of all time but we could not be happier," said Levitan.
In the individual comedy categories, Julia Louis-Dreyfus won best actress for "Veep." It's her second for this role. And it's the third best-actor win for Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory."
"It means a ton because I've actually lost many, many more times than I've won," said Louis-Dreyfus. "I've lost 10 times as a matter of fact. So it is delicious to win."
Her co-star, Tony Hale, won comedy's supporting actor award. Best supporting actress went to Merritt Wever of "Nurse Jackie."
"Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Um, I got to go, bye," Wever told the audience after besting a field that included two-time winner Julie Bowen of "Modern Family."
Host Neil Patrick Harris said that was the best acceptance speech ever.
Cable dominated the drama categories. "Breaking Bad" won its first Emmy as best drama series.
"This is the culmination of everything and to happen right now at this time, this is one hell of a party and I'm so excited to be a part of this, and what a way to go out," said Bryan Cranston.
Claire Danes won her second trophy for "Homeland," and Jeff Daniels won his first for "The Newsroom."
The supporting acting trophies went to Bobby Cannavale for "Boardwalk Empire" and Anna Gunn for "Breaking Bad."
In the variety show category, "The Colbert Report" broke a 10-year winning streak held by "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." It also won for best writing for a variety show.
The ceremony's first hour was relatively somber, with memorial tributes and a doleful song by Elton John in honor of the late musical star Liberace, the subject of the nominated biopic "Behind the Candelabra."
Robin Williams offered another tribute. "Jonathan Winters was my mentor," Williams said of the actor-comedian. "I told him that and he said, 'Please, I prefer 'idol.'"
Also honored was Cory Monteith, the "Glee" star who died at age 31 in July of a drug and alcohol overdose. "His death is a tragic reminder of the rapacious, senseless destruction that is brought on by addiction," said his co-star Jane Lynch.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.