After nine seasons and 187 episodes, the final episode of One Tree Hill aired on The CW Wednesday night, but the beloved series won't be soon forgotten by its tight-knit cast.
"We started this show in 2003, a year before The O.C. aired, and we were on longer than Lost," Lee Norris, 30, told Us Weekly during a phone interview Thursday. "That's nine years -- more time than I was in high school. We may not have been the No. 1 show, but our fans were really invested in the characters, and I think we wrapped things up in a way that they deserved."
Tyler Hilton, who returned for Season 9, adds: "This was the perfect way to end it, with nothing too crazy that tried to push the envelope. It was just a really nice way to end a show with people that you've known for nine years. It was a cool way to send everybody off."
The final scene gave a glimpse into the remaining characters' futures, where they cheered on Jamie Scott during his basketball game at Tree Hill -- the same place his father Nathan (James Lafferty) once played.
"Being back in the gym -- it was the first time we'd been there in years because our characters had all graduated high school and moved on with their lives," Norris says. "It all kind of came full circle."
When Us spoke to Lafferty, 26, in January, he admitted that it was initially hard to accept that the show was coming to an end. "It didn't ever sink in while I was saying goodbye to everybody. It didn't sink in when they said, 'That's a wrap on James Lafferty.' It didn't sink in in any of those typical moments."
"It kinda sunk in when I was by myself alone in my trailer, and I was getting changed for the very last time. It was like, 'Now this is weird. I'm never gonna be back here, never gonna have these private moments in this trailer again,'" Lafferty explained. "That was an interesting feeling. But it's time to move on. The realist in you says, 'It's been nine years. We've told every story we can tell. We've done it in the best possible way. And we've done justice to the stories and to our fans.'"
Norris watched Wednesday's finale at Sophia Bush's home, along with several other One Tree Hill stars. "We talked about the finality of it all, shared some inside jokes that no one but us would get -- things like that."
Bush, 29, was happy with the way the series ended. "It's a big finish," she told Us in December. "Our writers are very talented in taking you on a roller coaster ride and returning you home to a place that is familiar."
She added: "At the end of the day, most shows are considered successes if they make it three, maybe four years. And we've run for nine years! We did more episodes on television than Seinfeld or I Love Lucy. I don't feel that we have any right to complain about it being over. I think we should all be grateful that we had it for as long as we did."
The final season -- which also starred Austin Nichols, Bethany Joy Lenz, Lisa Goldstein, Robert Buckley, Jana Kramer, Stephen Coletti, Paul Johansson and Shantel VanSanten -- also marked the return of previous cast members Chad Michael Murray and Craig Sheffer (among others).
Though there aren't any plans for a reunion movie yet, Norris and Hilton wouldn't be opposed to the idea. "I don't think anybody would say no to something like that, if for nothing else than a passion project, just to get to do it again," Hilton explains.
While Bush is tapped to star in a pilot for CBS, Lafferty said he just wants to "continue working and stay useful," whether that means acting, directing or producing. Norris, meanwhile, is prepping for his next big project. "I've been part of two amazing shows -- One Tree Hill and Boy Meets World -- so I've got a lot to live up to," he tells Us.
Hilton, 28, released his new album, Forget the Storm, on April 3 and plans to focus on his music career for the time being. "It's going to keep me busy for a while. With acting, you never know. If something comes along, I'll move some things around and make it work. That's how One Tree Hill got started for me."