Drummers wearing gorilla masks warmed up the crowd packed into Brooklyn's Barclays Center as black-clad women swung their long tresses in rhythm.
Mick Jagger pranced, shimmied and howled his way through the 2-1/2 hour show, pausing to reminisce about the band's history and its first New York concert at Carnegie Hall in 1964.
For a group whose early years were punctuated by quarrels and occasional brushes with the law, the biggest controversy ahead of Saturday's show was the price of seats - up to $800, and as much as 10 times that amount on websites offering last-minute tickets.
In those days, milk was cheaper and "tickets to the Rolling Stones was - well, I'm not going to go there," Jagger acknowledged.
The band's last major tour was in 2007 and the latest reunion almost didn't happen, owing in part to a spat between Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards over comments Richards made about the singer in a 2010 autobiography.
Richards joked in a recent interview: "We can't get divorced - we're doing it for the kids."
A tribute video opened Saturday's proceedings featuring celebrities heaping praise on the band.
"They're great songs to do bad things to," said actor Johnny Depp. "Just how skinny they all are... It really, really pisses me off," said actress Cate Blanchett.
The Stones - average age 68 - ripped through 20 hits that began with "Get Off of My Cloud" and closed with "Sympathy for the Devil" and an encore of "You Can't Always Get What You Want", "Jumping Jack Flash" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction".
Women in the crowd opened their arms wide as Jagger, wearing a silver sequined jacket, strutted along the horseshoe-shaped stage for "I Wanna Be Your Man", a Beatles tune. The band was then joined by R&B singer Mary J. Blige for "Gimme Shelter".
"People say 'why do you keep doing this?'" Jagger told the crowd. He thanked fans for buying records and "generally being amazing for the last 50 years."
The Stones started their brief diamond jubilee tour in London and are due to play twice in Newark, New Jersey.
Fans said it could be the last chance for New Yorkers to see the band live.
"It's the only concert I wanted to see before I die," said Lucy Webley, 33.
(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)