PARIS, France - Until the last minute, President Nicolas Sarkozy's supporters hoped their champion would be able to stay in the presidential palace, l'Elysee.
"Sarkozy to l'Elysee," thousands chanted as they awaited the official results outside the Mutualite, where Sarkozy was holding his election event.
But as the result appeared on the giant TV screen, some could not hold back their tears.
"I came here to party... but now, it feels like a stab," said Denise Kouedy, a midwife from Paris. "It's very sad. I really believed we could win.
"We've lost a man of experience. He was very strong, very powerful. Now we're scared for the future. Our fate might follow Greece," she said, referring to the debt crisis that prompted Greece to seek an EU bailout.
|Denise Kouedy, a Sarkozy supporter, had hoped she would celebrating on Sunday evening [Al Jazeera]
Still waving their flags, but with clearly dampened spirits, the crowds continued to cheer as the defeated president gave his farewell speech.
"Merci, merci, merci," they chanted as Sarkozy said he could never give back what his supporters had given him, and that they would always stay in his heart.
Philippe, a disappointed voter who did not want to give his last name, said he was worried about the future as he will soon be looking for a job.
But more important than economic policies, he rejected Hollande's position on family and euthanasia.
"Family and preservation of life are in danger," he said, referring to Hollande's pledge to review euthanasia regulations. "Legalisation of euthanasia scares me."
Before the election, Sarkozy pledged to quit politics if he lost.
In Sunday's speech, he hinted that this was still his plan. "My place cannot be the same" after decades in politics and years at the highest level, he said.
"After five years as head of state, my role will be different."
Eric Pape, a Paris-based journalist, said that whatever Sarkozy decides to do, he will make sure it is well-paid.
"He's married to Carla Bruni, a very wealthy woman who's worth some 20 million euros," he said. "But with Sarkozy's ego, 20 million doesn't seem that much, and I think he'd rather earn the money himself.
|Spotlight coverage of France's 2012 presidential elections
"I expect him to give talks - expensive talks I should say. And I expect him to come up with some kind of foundation, some framework that makes it seem that it's not only about money, but that actually helps making money.
"Considering his personality, he'll probably also get some kind of depression. He has a very young child, and a small baby is a great thing to engross yourself in when you're depressed."
Pape says the private sector is also an option.
"I'm sure there are many major companies who'd pay a lot for his skills and especially, his address book."
In a recent book, former Le Monde editor Éric Fottorino quoted Sarkozy as telling him about his post-presidential plans: "My next status will be 'former president,' and that one will last a long time," Frottorino wrote. "Then I'll do like Bill [Clinton] or like Tony [Blair]: I will do conferences, and there, I'll stuff myself [with money].
Pape did however not rule out the possibility that Sarkozy would return to politics in some capability after losing by a small margin.
A member of Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) said it was too early to say what would happen within the party.
"Until the last moment we still believed that victory was possible. In theory, the president said he would quit political life, but we don’t know yet," he said.
The incumbent has also discarded a potential career on the EU scene.
“No, under no circumstance, in no manner – neither now nor later on,” Sarkozy told French daily Liberation, which asked if he’d be interested in a high-ranking EU post.
He added jokingly: “the only way you will be able to hear me again and to work with me will be to re-elect me. That’s it. There’s no other way.”