Michael Howard bade an emotional farewell to the Conservative faithful as he urged them to unite around a new leader, in his final speech to the party conference.
Afterwards, he handed over his formal letter of resignation as party leader to Sir Michael Spicer (Con West Worcestershire), chairman of the committee representing backbench Tory MPs. Nominations for a replacement will open today.
Delegates gave him a warm welcome. Despite the Conservative Party's failure to win the last election - or even come close to winning - he is widely respected for pulling the party back from the brink, after it threatened to tear itself apart under the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith.
But the hall was less packed than when the various leadership contenders were speaking, earlier in the week.
Unusually for a party conference, the leader's speech was not the highlight of the event.
Mr Howard began on an optimistic note, in keeping with the mood among Conservatives in Blackpool this week.
This year's party conference had been an unusual one - effectively a hustings for the party leadership.
But seeing the candidates in action, and seeing some of them do rather well, has given many Conservatives fresh hope, as Mr Howard suggested.
"This has been a conference brimming with talent, brimming with energy and full of hope for our party and hope for our country," he said.
But he warned: "Let's not be offensive about each other; let's not run down our party; let's show we can elect a new leader without bitterness and backbiting.
"And then let's unite behind that new leader - not just for a year or two, but for a whole Parliament, and even when the going gets tough."
Mr Howard did not explain why unity was so important. But every delegate will have known that disunity and disloyalty had been the Tory Party's curse since John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher in
Mr Howard urged Conservatives to feel proud of belonging to the party which, he said, had changed Britain for the better.
And he insisted: "We are not and never have been a nasty party."
But he embraced calls for the party to change if it is to win again. He said: "No party has a God-given right to
govern. There is no 'natural party of government'. The right to govern is a privilege we have to earn."
In a call for the Conservatives to be positive about Britain, he said the public didn't believe the country was "on its knees".
Mr Howard said: "They like the buzz and excitement of our culture, our diversity, our individuality . . . These people have high hopes for Britain. They see a glass half full.
"They are looking to the future, confident that Britain's best days lie ahead - and so must we be."
In what might be seen as an echo of leadership contender David Cameron's plea to reach out to a "new generation", Mr Howard reminded delegates that at the next General Election, people born in 1990 will be able to vote for the first time.
"They were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Their life has been shaped by the Internet and the iPod, and by cheap flights and mobile phones."
They were interested in the environment and world poverty. "So we must talk about what matters to them in today's world - their world, the world as it is, not the world as it was."