On other election days in other years, there were surging crowds and autograph seekers, top city officials clearing the way for the all-powerful mayor of the District of Columbia.

But yesterday the only people who seemed excited when Marion Barry emerged from his Lincoln Town Car at Half and N streets SW were the young children who swarmed about him, asking for campaign stickers.

"It's all over but the shouting," Barry told a reporter, smiling, as if he already knew the end was near.

Hours later, the Marion Barry era was over.

He had been defeated for the first time in his political career -- not in a bid for an unprecedented fourth term in office, but in a desperate campaign for one of two at-large seats on the D.C. Council.

As the disappointing election returns came in last night, Barry was holed up in his room at the Park Hyatt Hotel downtown with only his closest advisers. Downstairs, it was like a wake.

But Barry tried to revive the spirit one last time. Appearing before his cheering supporters, Barry rejected the idea that the election results were a personal repudiation. "This is not the time for tears," Barry said, with his wife Effi and mother Mattie Cummings at his side. "This is the time for feeling we've been successful in taking our case to the people."

"You can't take away the last 12 years . . . . You can't take away downtown . . . you can't take away our programs for seniors . . . you can't take away our minority business program."

Others saw it differently. "This is a complete rejection of Marion Barry and the Barry administration," Dwight Cropp, a former Barry aide whose wife Linda was the leading vote-getter in the at-large council race, said last night. "It shows how the mayor lost touch with the people."

"He's finished," Tracie Sanchez said yesterday, minutes after casting a vote against Barry at Gordon Adult Education Center in Ward 2. "We don't need what he offers."

In other quarters, especially among longtime supporters who remembered the bright hope that accompanied Barry's first election in 1978 as a reformist mayor, there was sadness.

"It really hurts to see him go out this way," said Stuart J. Long, a Washington restaurateur and longtime fund-raiser for Barry. "He had a lot to offer the city for most of the years he was mayor . . . . This was self-inflicted, and it could have been prevented."

The clock has been ticking for Barry ever since Jan. 18, when he was arrested in an FBI sting at the Vista Hotel. He vowed he would be vindicated -- if not by the Justice Department then by the jury, or the judge, or, finally, by the voters. Yesterday, even the voters disappointed him.

It was an ignominious close to a spectacular public career that saw Barry rise from a dirt-poor childhood, the son of Mississippi sharecroppers who became a young lion of the civil rights movement and later chief executive of the government of the nation's capital.

During his 12-year tenure as mayor, he presided over a downtown building boom and an expansion of services for the poor, while controlling the dispensation of millions of dollars in contracts, appointments and other patronage. In later years, he came to dominate public attention in other unwanted ways -- through his dalliances with women and the continual rumors of drug use.

When his trial ended in August with a conviction for cocaine possession, Barry tried to pull off one more miracle by seeking a council seat.

His friends advised against it. They said it was beneath him. "He was just hoping for a final upset," Long said.

Campaigning in Southwest Washington earlier yesterday, Barry refused to talk about his plans, discounting speculation that he wants a teaching position at the University of the District of Columbia. "I'm not in a hurry," he said. "I'm not going on welfare."

Pending appeal, he still faces his six-month prison sentence.

Using language reminiscent of another disgraced politician, Richard M. Nixon, Barry said his departure from office will remove an excuse some city officials have for the city's failure to address its budget deficit and homicide rate.

"The leadership of the council and the mayor's office can't use me as a whipping post anymore," he said. "That's why it is going to be so interesting. Now they've got to make decisions."