Aldean, who received his sixth Artist of the Year honor on Wednesday, took the stage at the Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center to play a powerful cover of Petty's iconic tune "I Won't Back Down."
The 40-year-old singer was joined by fellow Artist of the Year honorees Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban, as well as Little Big Town, for the emotional performance.
Luke Bryan, another honoree at this year's event, introduced Aldean and his performance, and gave a little insight into why he chose that particular song.
"Jason gave a lot of thought about what he wanted to play on this show, and he kept coming back to a song from a hero of his, and many of ours here tonight," Bryan shared in his introduction. "It’s a song Jason played for years coming up in the clubs and tonight some of his friends want to join him."
Bryan refrained from revealing the song, allowing the opening notes and Aldean's soulful vocals to serve as an emotional surprise.
As the country music all-stars performed the hit -- which Petty recorded for his first solo album Full Moon Fever in 1989 -- Stapleton, Urban, Aldean each sang a verse, while Little Big Town backed them up as they all sang the chorus.
"To all the fans, this has been for you," Aldean said at the end of the performance and the close of the show. "Thank you guys, and good night!"
Urban spoke with ET's Sophie Schillaci on the red carpet before the event, and opened up about what it meant to perform Petty's celebrated hit to close out the show.
"It is such a perfect song for everything that has been happening the last couple months," he explained. "The strength and fortitude of country fans is unbelievable. We wanted to acknowledge that, so tonight is really all about them."
The country crooner -- who had been performing on stage at the festival when the shooting began -- opened the emotional episode of SNL with a somber but hopeful message.
"So many people are hurting... Children, brothers, sisters, parents -- they're all part of our family," Aldean said before the playing. "We're gonna work through these tough times together, all the way."