CHICAGO, NOV. 30 -- Harold Washington led his last great political rally today. He was carried in a sleek black hearse behind a motorcycle honor guard and a city fire truck draped in purple and piled high with flowers.

Dozens of limousines bearing senators, members of Congress, big-city mayors, aldermen and ward heelers followed in an hour-long procession through Chicago's South Side, as tens of thousands of mourners gathered at curbside.

Schoolchildren waved placards that said, "We loved you Harold. We won't forget you." Old women clutched poster-sized photographs of the mayor.

And when the somber caravan neared the entrance to Oak Grove Cemetery, which in the early 1960s refused to sell gravesites to blacks, a cheer went up from the surging crowd at 71st and Cottage Grove: "Harold, Harold, Harold."

Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, "wouldn't have cared for all this fuss," one of his eulogizers had said earlier. He was feisty and rambunctious; he took on Chicago's Democratic political machine and, by the time he died last week of a heart attack at age 65, was its boss.

But for much of the black population in the nation's third-largest city, Washington was far more than a politician. He was a cultural hero, the symbol of an emotion-driven political movement that many blacks here see as a successor to the civil rights movement.

"Harold Washington is the compendium of our historical struggle as black people in America," the Rev. B. Herbert Martin, the late mayor's minister, said during the service. "He is the epitome of all our precious achievements . . . the embodiment of our last 33 years of civil rights struggle."

Washington's funeral came after three days of mourning. Officials said about 1 million people came to the city-county building over the weekend to view his body. Tens of thousands more, spread block after block, stood in a chill, gray drizzle to watch his body pass by.

It was the largest funeral for a black leader since that of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta in 1968. But it was far different.

This was a political funeral, Chicago style. Succession, not tears, was the first order of business. The service was held in the 4,000-seat Christ Universal Temple, the largest church on the predominantly black South Side.

There are five sections at the front of the church. A portion of one was reserved for Washington's family; one was reserved for Washington's appointees; one for the 50 members of the city council; one for state senators, representatives and other important local elected officials; one for national figures.

In the front row of the "national" section were Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination; Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.); his nephew, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II (D-Mass.); and former senator Albert Gore Sr., whose son is running for president. In the second row was another presidential contender, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry and, two seats away, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Behind them were New York Mayor Edward I. Koch, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode, Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, Democratic National Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. and most members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

But most attention was on the front row of the city council section. Alderman Eugene Sawyer, whose supporters claim has all but sewn up the votes to be elected acting mayor, had a strategically located aisle seat.

For an hour, a stream of judges, police, firefighters, preachers and office-holders stopped by to congratulate Sawyer.

His chief rival, Alderman Timothy Evans, had a better seat, however. Evans, Washington's floor leader in the city council, was one of nine speakers to address the service, televised live on local stations.

Another speaker was Democratic presidential candidate Jesse L. Jackson, who had been embarrassed by his failure to succeed as a kingmaker in the mayoral succession. The first thing he did upon sitting down was to glare at unfriendly aldermen; they glared back.

Without formally endorsing Evans, Jackson made clear that the 43-year-old lawyer was his choice to succeed Washington. But it appears that effort has backfired, due in part to resentment over Jackson's role.

Evans has lost strength since Jackson entered the process; Sawyer has gained. Tonight, three Sawyer supporters asked the city clerk to convene a city council meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to elect an acting mayor, and Sawyer said he has more than enough votes to win.

Under law, the acting mayor is to be elected by a majority of the 50-member council, and serve until the next municipal election in April 1989. Sawyer, first elected in 1971, is supported by black and white regular organization Democrats.

Evans' greatest strength is in the reform coalition that Washington forged to win the mayor's office in 1983, and eventually to take firm control of the city council last spring.

Martin, the pastor of Washington's church, appeared to refer to both groups in his eulogy, saying: "The sharks have scented our blood. They are after us. We cannot afford to thrash about in the water. We must swim or perish. There is not time for power-brokering, no time for kingmaking, no time for ego tripping, no time for power grabs."

If Jackson lacked support among the aldermen, he had plenty among other mourners at the service, receiving a standing ovation.

The crowd included Washington's enemies as well as his friends. State's Attorney Richard M. Daley, son of the late mayor, and his two brothers were given prominent seats. Daley ran against Washington in a bitter 1983 Democratic primary. Former mayor Jane M. Byrne, another contestant in that race, also attended.

Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson, a Republican frequently at odds with Washington, gave a tribute. He received loud applause when he said: "When you were denounced by Harold Washington, you knew you were denounced . . . . He was stubborn. Negotiating with Harold Washington was like dropping water on granite, drop by drop."

Washington, who lived alone in a modest apartment in the integrated Hyde Park neighborhood, was buried about 40 feet from another famous Chicago mayor, William Hale Thompson. Former Olympic Games star Jesse Owens also is buried at that cemetery.

Special correspondent Janice Kramer contributed to this report.