By Mariel S. Clark, Serena Solomon, Josh Williams and Nicole Bode
TIMES SQUARE — Midtown surged with ecstatic crowds — and celebrity entertainers — as hundreds of thousands of partygoers gathered to say goodbye to 2009.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, aided by some of the city's best high school students, dropped the 12,000-pound New Year's Eve ball, adorned with 2,668 Waterford crystals, after the crowd counted down.
Three thousand pounds of confetti floated above the crowd as many revelers embraced each other in a kiss and sang Auld Lang Syne.
"This is the place to be. The whole world is looking at New York," said Bjorn Richter, 20, of Boston.
Entertainers like Jennifer Lopez and the rock band Daughtry kept people jumping, with high-energy performances despite the near-freezing temperatures and sleeting rain.
J-Lo wowed the crowds with a skin-tight, sequined unitard she revealed beneath a thick black fur vest. She performed her new song, "Louboutins" along with the adrenaline-pumping hit, "Let's Get Loud."
Fireworks exploded across the city as throngs in Times Square and people throughout Manhattan bade farewell to a year that saw the city overcome enormous obstacles once again.
"2010 will be great. It's a new decade," said Jeannie Chan, 29, from Kansas.
"We've been here for hours. We only saw a sliver of the ball, but it was worth it."
From the economic collapse to the seismic changes in Wall Street, to the reemergence of terror threats in the final days of 2009, New York proved yet again to be up to the challenge.
Spirits were high in Times Square, as the slushy mixture of snow and rain and temperatures hovering just above freezing failed to dampen the mood of the city.
“Everybody always says that when you have a wedding and it rains, everybody’s going to be happy and have good luck,” Bloomberg told the Times Square Alliance live Web cast, "This sort of guarantees that 2010 is going to be a great year.”
"This decade went so fast. I'm trying to think if I did something special but I am ending the decade in new york city so that is special," said Bruno Pereira, 22, of Brazil.
Many of the revelers had staked out spots in Times Square hours before the ball dropped.
"Dealing with the crowds is worth the experience," said Meghan Healy, 18, who traveled to Times Square from Manchester, N.H., "You watch it on TV every year, and say I want to experience that."
Sandra Fuentes hauled her three young kids into Times Square from Brooklyn 12 hours early to get ready for the ball drop.
Fuentes, loaded up on Happy New Year flashing sunglasses and light-up necklaces before braving the crowds with her 5-year-old, 9-year-old and 11-year-old kids.
"I have a lot of hot chocolate,” Fuentes said, brandishing a thermos full of the sticky stuff.
The NYPD took extra precautions in anticipation of the annual ceremony, and the city was on high alert after last week's failed airplane bombing and Wednesday's scare involving a van abandoned in Times Square. Police arrested the van owner, George Freyer, 36, of New Jersey, on felony charges Thursday night. Freyer allegedly used a bogus police placard in an attempt to duck police inspection for two days.
Police officers swept garages and buildings in the area. Metal barriers and police cars blocked off streets leading into Times Square and some subway entrances will be closed.
Police were also inspecting revelers for backpacks and large bags, banning them inside Times Square.
A mound of discarded backpacks and bags built up outside a police barricade as partiers ditched them to get inside.
"It's the first time, and the last. So much pain," said Juan Mejia, a college student from New Jersey who waited 12 hours in Times Square for the ball drop.
Officers with rifles patrolled on rooftops. Others, in plainclothes, mingled with the crowds.
The FBI was also on hand to support the NYPD, dispatching 100 agents, analysts and support teams to the area, according to FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko.