David Atkins, who put together the opening ceremony, said that it was a bigger challenge than the Sydney Olympics opener in 2000, which he also organised.
"This ceremony, in all seriousness, is far more ambitious and greater in scale and scope than the Sydney ceremony," he said.
Each spectator was given a package of items that enabled them to interact with the performance.
A giant viewing screen spanning the Khalifa stadium’s eastern stand projected backdrops and other visual effects.
Hong Kong pop star Jacky Cheung, Indian singer Sunidhi Chauhan, Lebanese artiste Magida El Roumi and Spanish tenor José Carreras were among the performers.
After more than a week of discussions, basketballer Lee Kyu-sup carried the "unification flag" ahead of a joint North and South Korean delegation.
It is the eighth time the two Koreas, technically still at war, have marched together at the opening of an international sporting event.
Representatives from the two countries held two days of meetings ahead of the opening of the Asian Games and finalised their plan to march together.
However, uncertainty remains over the fielding of a joint team for the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing.
The Japanese delegation had a setback when Olympic hammer throw champion Koji Murofushi withdrew because of a leg injury.
The first 17 gold medals at the games will be awarded on Saturday, in events including swimming and shooting.