Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned on the lights just before 9 p.m., setting off a dazzling 45,000 multi-colored LED lights and a 9 ½-foot-wide Swarovski star that topped the 12-ton tree.
Adam Connery, 41, and his wife Kristy Connery, 37, from Tyngsborough, Mass., watched the ceremony on their first vacation to New York City.
"It's gorgeous, it's enormous," said Kristy Connery of the massive tree towering above the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered to watch the ceremony. "Christmas is my favorite time of the year."
The holiday event in midtown Manhattan also was watched by millions on television. The tree will be on display until Jan. 7, after which it'll be milled into lumber for Habitat for Humanity.
Artists such as Mary J. Blige, the Goo Goo Dolls, Jewel, Mariah Carey and Leona Lewis performed.
Lamar Lakins, 37, a housekeeper from Queens, brought his wife, mother, 10-year-old daughter Shanel, and newborn son to watch the performances and see the tree lighting.
He and Shanel danced together in the plaza during a performance of "Jingle Bells."
"I just love this," he said of the gathering. "It's just people out enjoying themselves. I'm definitely a fan of the holiday season."
The approximately 75-year-old tree made the 70-mile trip to New York City on a tractor-trailer from its home in Shelton, Conn., last month.
Danbury, Conn., resident Mary Hynes, 60, declared the show to be "outstanding."
"The excitement of the crowd, the brilliance of the lights. It was great," she said.
"Today Show" personalities Matt Lauer, Al Roker, Savannah Guthrie and Natalie Morales co-hosted "Christmas in Rockefeller Center," which aired on NBC.
They dedicated the broadcast to James Lovell, 58, a married father of four and a sound and lighting expert who worked on the tree. Lovell was one of four people killed when a Metro-North commuter train derailed in the Bronx on Sunday. He was on his way to work on the tree when the accident occurred.