On Thursday's episode of the NBC morning show, Gifford's penultimate episode, her co-hosts showered her with praise for her long career, which includes more than a decade at Today. Following a sweet video retrospective, Gifford said that, despite feeling "exhausted" from her busy week, she feels "good."
"Every minute's been filled up with some sort of something. It’s good. I feel when I am alone, like in the mornings, and I'm there with my puppies and my fire going and stuff, I have such a peace about it all," she said emotionally. "It could be an anxiety-ridden time, but it isn’t. I knew that it was the right decision, and the way everybody's dealt with it so graciously."
"Usually you have to die before people say such nice things about you," she quipped.
Gifford said that "nobody's more surprised" than she is by her long career and said that she hopes her tenure on morning TV, as well as her future aspirations, "gives hope to people that it ain't over 'til it’s over."
The emotions continued pouring out when Gifford and her longtime co-host, Hoda Kotb, recreated their very first Today entrance, even sporting the same colorful coats they wore more than a decade ago.
The hosts then announced that the plaza on set would be renamed after Gifford, to which she quipped, "It's almost like a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame."
"I am so grateful to everybody that's watched us through the years," she added with tears in her eyes. "So grateful for our crew and all the people that work here. I have been in this business 180 years and I have never worked with a greater group of human beings in my life. So thank you."
A second retrospective came later in the show, with even more members of the Today family praising Gifford for her faith, authenticity, humor and kindness. Following the video tribute, she joked, "I can't take any more, you guys," before tearfully discussing the impact her parents had on the person she became.
Gifford also received a message in a bottle from each of the third-hour co-hosts and answered questions about her favorite guests, what she hopes to steal from set and some unknown details about her life.
In addition to her Today tributes, Gifford also stopped by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon earlier this week, where she revealed why it was time for her to say goodbye to the morning show.
"I gave my notice two years ago because, after my husband passed, you really realize that you're going to run out of time. And then my mom passed as well," she said of her late husband, Frank Gifford, who died in 2015, and her mom, Joan Cuttell, who passed two years later.
"I realized just recently that I'm in a state where I never dreamed I'd be," she continued. "I'm a widow. I'm an orphan. I am an empty nester. And that just hit me like a ton of bricks. And, for the first time in my life, I have the time and the means to go and do anything I want to do. First time in my whole life."
Those new ambitions include working on movies and music, as well as a move down south to Nashville, Tennessee.
"I have so many things that I'm working on. I co-wrote all the music for the movie Then Came You with a great writer down in Nashville named Brett James. I got a place in Nashville, so I'm going to be there a lot more," she said "... I've wanted to do these movies... That's always been that dream in me, to do movies. So, I wrote a movie last year... We want to do four more based on the same characters... And I just directed my first short film in Israel two weeks ago."
"I'm just having the time of my life," she added. "... I don't want to be the one using my senior discount to go and see a movie. I want to make the movie that the seniors are using their discount to come and see."
Despite her certainty that departing was the right call, leaving Today -- and more specifically Kotb -- is not going to be an easy feat.
"I came for a year, I fell in love with my Egyptian goddess," Gifford said of Kotb, after revealing that she was reluctant to accept the gig. "And then I stayed another year because I was starting to fall in love... you know, the people over there. They're just so amazing. They're incredible. And it's 11 years later. It's literally time."