The 1979 local United Way fund-raising campaign ended yesterday with contributions totalling $23.5 million -- the most ever contributed and $2.5 million more than last year's total.

Colorful balloons bearing the message "A Record Breaker" greeted about 1,000 persons who attended a luncheon at the Washington Hilton yesterday to honor volunteers who had worked in this year's campaign.

Officials attributed the success of this year's campaign to large increases in donations from the private sector.

Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland said he was "slightly disappointed" with the level of contributions from federal employes, who contribute through the Combined Federal Campaign, a government-wide charity drive. Federal employes contributed 8.9 percent more this year -- one of the lowest increases -- and due in large part to the addition of the American Cancer Society to the campaign.

Bergland said federal officials will try to raise more money through the rest of this year.

Bergland and other United Way officials suggested that many federal employes decided not to contribute this year to protest new regulations requiring them to pay for their parking. In addition, the campaign received negative publicity from congressional hearings last month into charges that some employes were coerced into making donations and that some charitable groups have been denied the chance to participate. Twenty-five thousand fewer federal employes contributed this year.

Nearly 200 agencies benefit from funds raised by the local campaign through the United Way, the United Black Fund and the American Cancer Society. The capital area includes the District, Alexandria, Falls Church, Arlington, Montgomery, Prince George's and Prince William counties. All regions reported increases over 1978.

"At a time when the nation is said to be facing a "crisis of confidence," it is especially gratifying to be a part of such a successful 'people helping effort," said Thomas B. Cookerly, the president and general manager of WJLA-TV who served as United Way general campaign chairman this year.