Dubai, a Persian Gulf city known for glitz, glamour and over-the-top achievements like the world's tallest skyscraper, sought to break another record by creating the largest fireworks show.
In Ukraine, anti-government protesters hoped to set their own record for the most people to sing a national anthem at the same time.
Crowds heading to New York City's Times Square could expect the traditional ball drop but no mayor this year. The new year was to be rung in by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor instead.
The Dubai skyline was a canvas for a dazzling 30-minute capping off with six minutes of fireworks that engulfed the city's man-made, palm-shaped island, with its fronds and trunk shimmering in thousands of lights.
Organizers had promised that the fireworks would form a flying falcon, sunrise and United Arab Emirates flag over another Dubai invention: artificial islands in the shape of the world. It was not immediately clear if the promised designs or world record had been achieved.
In total, the extravaganza was slated to include half a million fireworks from 400 firing locations synchronized by 100 computers, said Barrett Wissman, co-chairman of IMG Artists, which was managing the event. The company also organized the grand fireworks for the Atlantis hotel opening on Dubai's Palm island in 2008.
The spectacle erupted at midnight at the world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, and moved to the city's sail-shaped Burj Al-Arab hotel before ending at the Palm.
"It is really mind-blowing the size of this," Wissman said of the display.
The fireworks display was slated to surpass the current world record held by another Gulf Arab state in just the first 60 seconds. Kuwait has held the record since last year, when it fired more than 77,000 fireworks in a display lasting more than an hour.
Guinness World Record officials were on hand to measure the scale of Dubai's event, which needed to be longer than five minutes to qualify.
Britain planned to welcome 2014 with a mixture of futuristic fireworks and torch-lit tradition. For people in London, the New Year offered the opportunity to taste the fireworks.
The city's mayor - in conjunction with telecommunications company Vodafone - said this year's explosive display would come packed with peach-flavored snow, edible banana confetti and orange-scented bubbles, allowing people to feast with more than just their eyes. The multisensory display will also include scratch-and-sniff programs, LED wristbands and fruit-flavored sweets.
In Sydney, Australia, fireworks organizers expected to set off 7 metric tons (7.7 U.S. tons) of pyrotechnics in 12 seconds in a display that sprayed from the sails of the Sydney Opera House and the city's harbor bridge.
"It filled up the whole sky," said Mona Rucek, a 28-year-old tourist from Munich, Germany.
Closer to the International Dateline, New Zealand concluded 2013 with its own fireworks that erupted from Auckland's Sky Tower while cheering crowds danced in the streets of the South Pacific island nation's largest city.
In Tokyo, five priests at the Zojoji temple used ropes to swing a wooden pole against a large bell, sounding the first of 108 gongs to mark the new year. Simultaneously, "2014" lit up in white lights on the modern Tokyo Tower in the background.
Juji Muto said he was curious to hear how the bell sounded. The 75-year-old retiree said he wishes every year for good health.
China planned light shows at part of the Great Wall near Beijing and at the Bund waterfront in Shanghai. The city of Wuhan in central Hubei province called off its fireworks show and banned fireworks downtown to avoid worsening its smog.
Pope Francis used his year-end prayer service of thanksgiving to urge people to ask themselves: Did they spend 2013 to further their own interests or to help others?
The pontiff asked people to reflect if they used the past year to make the places where they live more livable and welcoming. Citing Rome as an example, Francis said the city is full of tourists, but also refugees.
More than 260 people had been injured by firecracker blasts and celebratory gunfire in the Philippines, a nation marking the end of a year of tragic disasters, including a Nov. 8 typhoon that left more than 6,100 dead and nearly 1,800 missing.
"Many here are welcoming the new year after losing their mothers, fathers, siblings and children so you can imagine how it feels," said village chief Maria Rosario Bactol of Anibong community in Tacloban, the city worst hit by Typhoon Haiyan. "I tell them to face the reality, to move on and stand up, but I know it will never be easy."
In New York City, outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who hobnobbed with celebrities during past Times Square celebrations, was sitting out this year's festivities to spend time with family and friends. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will be sworn in at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at his Brooklyn home.
Sotomayor, a New York City native, will lead the final 60-second countdown and push the ceremonial button to drop the ball.___
Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong; Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia; Ken Moritsugu, Yuri Kageyama and Eric Talmadge in Tokyo; Louise Watt in Beijing; and Colleen Long in New York City contributed to this report.