Farewells are supposed to be a time of warmth and expansive generosity, of which there was a great deal yesterday, but in fact they closed down the 96th Congress on several cantankerous notes.

The last formal act was one of generosity, the Senate approving corrections on a bill to pay the Woodstock (Ill.) Daily Sentinel $1,372 for a printing debt owed by the Army.

Just before that, however, Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and H. John Heinz III (R-Pa.) tangled in a last-minute spat over special-interest tax-break bills, and both ended up losing.

"It is a rather unhappy way for this session to end," said Cranston, after Heinz objected to consideration of a bill to help California utilities.

Heinz was miffed because he wanted to add an amendment exempting Pennsylvania and 20 other states from unemployment insurance debts they owe the federal Treasury.

Since the House had adjourned, already having adopted the bill Cranston was pushing, an amendment by Heinz in effect would have killed the measure.

Cranston and Finance Committee Chairman Russell B. Long (D-La.) pleased at length, but Heinz would not relent.Cranston ended their unpleasant exchange by assuring no cooperation next year when Heinz tries again.

The House also was in a nay-saying mood before Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D. Mass.) declared the session ended.

A voice vote killed the bill that would have earmarked $2.7 million to help the Lake Placid, N.Y., Winter Olympics organizing committee pay debts. An objection by Rep. Chalmers P. Wylie (R-Ohio) stopped a bill that would have helped the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts out of a parking garage debt.

But there was another twings of generosity in the Senate, where a resolution was approved authorizing severance pay of up to one month for Democratic staff displaced by the Republican takeover.

In the House, when Rep. Robert W. Edgar (D-Penn.) objected, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) was thwarted in one last effort to win approval of his version of a highway auto safety bill that he earlier had stripped of an air bag provision.

The air bag issue, in a bill extending the life of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was just one of a number of controversies left unresolved by this Congress.

Eleventh-hour neogtiations between Dingell and Sens. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) broke down when at least three senators early yesterday and Monday threatened to prevent any conpromise from reaching the floor. Warner and Packwood wanted air bag provisions included.

Also lost in the closing-days confusion were bills to close loopholes in bankruptcy law, expand urban mass transit and toughen federal law to prevent false claims by contractors. Regulatory reform, a fair housing bill, a child health assistance program, new limits on political action committee campaign contributions and a streamlining of patent, claims and customs courts were other victims of closing pressures.