The performance quieted as Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the World Wide Web, appeared in the arena. There was thunderous applause as Berners-Lee stood and waved to the crowd. The words "This is for everyone" appeared in lights across the stadium.
The cheers were interrupted with a somber moment that came as video screens showed photos of "friends and family who could not be here tonight" sent by audience members. With the atmosphere calmed, singer Emili Sande took the spotlight with the hymn "Abide With Me."
Some of the loudest applause of the night was for soccer star David Beckham, seen delivering the Olympic torch by motorboat from Tower Bridge. Beckham's decision to cross the Atlantic to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy, a Major League Soccer team, had apparently been forgiven.
The ceremony culminated in the traditional procession of athletes from all participating countries.
Marco Balich, who directed the opening and closing ceremonies at Turin's 2006 Winter Olympics, told the AP that Olympic ceremonies aim to express a nation's soul. In China's case, organizers wanted to put on display a "rich, modern and contemporary empire," while Britain, he said, hoped to express its "beautiful heritage and cultural history."
ABC News' Michael S. James contributed to this report.