Old Trafford turned into a sombre chamber as fans were suddenly forced to consider life without Govan’s most famous son, whilst supporters at the Etihad, Stamford Bridge and Anfield could be heard dancing in joy at the revelation.
Make no mistake about it; Sir Alex Ferguson has been the core reason for every Manchester United title during his reign, and the Red Devils' stranglehold on the division has now suddenly become a lot looser.
Now is not the time for grieving, though. Now is the time to celebrate Ferguson’s unprecedented legacy and recall his triumphs.
Here are 13 mesmerizing victories from Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure at Manchester United.
It’s easy to forget just how desperate the situation had become for Manchester United at the dawn of the Premier League.
Ferguson had appeased fans with a series of cup triumphs, including a coveted European success, but what they really craved was domestic glory.
Having capitulated towards the end of the final season of the old First Division, which included a humiliating defeat at Anfield, Ferguson was adamant that his troops would regroup and claim the first-ever Premier League crown.
The addition of Eric Cantona proved to be a catalyst, but just one win in March had derailed their bid again. Now anxious Red Devils sat watching their side lose to Sheffield Wednesday at Old Trafford with only five minutes to go.
Cue two headed goals from Steve Bruce deep into the dying embers of the game, which rescued three points for United and allowed them to streak ahead of Aston Villa and Norwich to claim their first league title in 26 years.
Following their success 12 months previously, Manchester United fans suddenly became greedy, and after racing into a seemingly unassailable advantage in the title race by Christmas, they started to dream of a domestic treble.
However, defeat against Aston Villa in the League Cup final was followed by a sticky period in their title defence that allowed Blackburn to put up a challenge.
United regrouped, though, and having progressed to the FA Cup final after a last-minute Mark Hughes wonder volley forced a replay in the semi-final, they travelled to Wembley knowing they were one win away from their first double.
After a nervy start, Eric Cantona scored two penalties. Mark Hughes and Brian McClair then confirmed the victory and secured Ferguson’s place in United folklore.
There was still so much more to come, though…
This was possibly the first United team to ever win a title that they didn’t deserve.
Ferguson, Cantona and Peter Schmeichel almost single-handedly dragged the Red Devils back into contention as Kevin Keegan’s sumptuous Newcastle United surrendered a 12-point advantage.
The mercurial Frenchman scored United’s only goals in March as they recorded three wins and a draw, but it was his precise volley past Pavel Srnicek that proved their mettle and helped to place United in the ascendancy.
All the while, the likes of Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Roy Keane, David Beckham and Paul Scholes adjusted to the rigors of the title pursuit and learned how to win from their more experienced counterparts.
Despite United’s period of domestic dominance, Ferguson still couldn’t muster a genuine assault on the European elite.
Defeats to Galatasaray and Barcelona had ended their two previous attempts by Christmas, but a more eclectic, youthful and pacey outfit began to leave their mark in 1997 when they demolished Porto at Old Trafford to all but seal their place in the Champions League semi-finals.
Goals from David May, Cantona, Giggs and Andy Cole completed the rout, which was followed by a goalless stalemate in Portugal.
They were then dumped out by the eventual winners Borussia Dortmund in the next round, but Ferguson’s appetite had been whet, and he was hungry to match Matt Busby’s effort in 1968.
“Football, bloody ‘ell,” proclaimed the Scot as he conducted an interview just moments after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s instinctive volley had grasped victory for the Red Devils against the superior Germans.
This victory was the final part in their Treble winning season and will forever be regarded as the pinnacle moment in both Ferguson and United’s history.
A deserved knighthood soon followed.
There isn’t much more you can say; all you can do is watch...
It was a taste of what was to come for the United faithful, as despite their record title-winning margin, an excruciating 18 points, they couldn’t help but be disappointed by their failure in Europe against Real Madrid.
Still, at times they were incredible, and the midfield adroitness of Giggs, Beckham, Keane and Scholes galvanised the side to their easiest domestic triumph.
Their best performance came at home to West Ham, where they systematically destroyed and overpowered the Hammers as part of an 11-game winning run that stretched to the end of the season.
United were top of the table for almost the entire season, but it wasn’t until their footballing first-half master class against second-place Arsenal in February that it became apparent how big the gap between the champions and the rest had become.
A 19-minute hat trick from Dwight Yorke and goals from Keane and Solskjaer saw United go in at halftime 5-1 in front, which was then compounded by Teddy Sheringham’s last-minute strike.
Arsene Wenger regrouped and took advantage of Ferguson’s pursuit of European glory to bring the Gunners back on par with United, with this defeat proving to be the catalyst.
Having watched Wenger’s Arsenal claim the previous season’s title, Ferguson’s United looked to have surrendered yet another campaign to the Londoners after a disastrous start.
But a great run of form after Christmas, a Ferguson staple, saw his side claw their way back into contention. Fans who questioned whether they still had the hunger for glory had their answer when they arrived at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park and played them off the pitch with ease and flair.
Solskjaer, Giggs, Van Nistelrooy and a Paul Scholes hat trick helped to seal victory in what might have been United’s most complete performance under Ferguson.
Ferguson’s second barren spell at the club saw Arsenal and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea fill the void whilst the Scot quietly rebuilt his squad with the additions of Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 2006/07 season finally saw United unleash their new potential. But Chelsea were hot on their heels, and when Ferguson’s side began to slip up in early April, it seemed inevitable that Abramovich’s millions would bankroll another title triumph.
2-0 down at Everton, United then performed a miraculous comeback in the last 30 minutes to claim a vital three points, which were made all the more sweeter when it was revealed that Chelsea had drawn at home to Bolton, leaving them within touching distance of their first title in four years.
Paul Scholes’ finest moment in a Manchester United shirt, and there are plenty of other moments to compare it to, saw the ginger magician cut his boot across a bouncing ball and arch an unstoppable volley past Victor Valdes.
Old Trafford erupted and then waited on tenterhooks for the next 80 minutes as Barcelona launched attack after attack in their pursuit of a priceless away goal.
It didn’t materialise, and United headed to Moscow, where they finally defeated Chelsea after a nervy performance on penalties, thanks to Edwin van der Sar’s heroics to claim a unique double.
It was hardly United in their prime, but the 2008/09 season featured two of the Red Devils' finest comebacks.
They trounced Spurs 5-2 after being two down at halftime in late April, but first came their spell-binding recovery against Aston Villa.
United looked to be heading for their third defeat on the trot, but with only nine minutes left, Cristiano Ronaldo precisely arrowed a shot beyond the claws of Brad Friedel before Federico Macheda came off the bench, turned exquisitely in the box deep into stoppage time and curled a decadent effort into the corner.
Old Trafford erupted, and at that moment United’s third league title in a row for a second time under Ferguson was all but confirmed.
By this point in his career, Ferguson had become a master at leading average United teams to the league title, and his crop of players during the 2010/11 campaign were probably the most humdrum he ever assembled.
They only recorded five wins on the road all season but still managed to remain three points ahead of Chelsea’s incumbent double-winning side going into their clash at Old Trafford with three games left.
United took the lead after only 25 seconds thanks to Javier Hernandez’ driven finish, and Nemanja Vidic secured the victory with a downward header only 20 minutes later.
It was yet another case of Ferguson galvanising his troops to success and basically dragging them over the threshold himself.
It’s hard to pick a stand-out game from Ferguson’s last title victory.
Victory over Villa would confirm their 13th league title, and Robin van Persie’s first-half hat trick meant that celebrations began well into the encounter.
Every goal was different, yet sublime.
A tap-in from two yards out, a glorious volley and a composed merry dance around Villa’s calamitous defenders secured the most important three points of the season.
A watching Ferguson must have simply looked around his joyous arena and thought to himself, "It can’t get much better than this," before deciding to hand over the reigns to a young pretender.
And trust me, whoever it may be, he will always be a pretender.