By Bill Rigby

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Steve Ballmer took his farewell bow before thousands of applauding employees on Thursday with a typically loud and emotional performance at his last companywide meeting, talking up the software giant's prospects and taking swipes at rivals.

The CEO, whose screeching and dancing at company events is the stuff of YouTube legend, stormed the stage to "Can't Hold Us" by Seattle rap/producer duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and kept up his usual high tempo, according to several people present at the employee-only meeting.

He departed to the strains of Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," the song played at Microsoft's first employee meeting in 1983, followed by "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" from the finale of "Dirty Dancing," getting a standing ovation from the 13,000 or so Microsoft full-time employees in attendance.

"We have unbelievable potential in front of us, we have an unbelievable destiny," said a visibly moved Ballmer, reusing a quote from the 1983 meeting. "Only our company and a handful of others are poised to write the future," he continued. "We're going to think big, we're going to bet big."

Ballmer, who announced his plan to retire within 12 months in August, was the last act of the all-day event at Seattle's KeyArena, former home of the city's SuperSonics basketball team.

Thousands of full-time Microsoft employees showed up, most of them bussed in from Microsoft's campus on the east side of Lake Washington - while an estimated 25,000 more tuned in via webcast.

The event is an annual traffic nightmare for Seattle, with 220 buses making the 15-mile journey from Microsoft's campus in Redmond to the center of the city.

During his time on stage, Ballmer talked about telling his parents about deciding to drop out of Stanford's business school to join Microsoft on 1980, recalling that his father - a long-time Ford Motor Co executive - asked him what a personal computer was.

He dwelled on his new plan to transform the company from a software-centric operation into a more innovative devices and services company, which he said would make it "fundamentally more powerful."

He also took a swipe at rivals, declaring that Apple is about being "fashionable," Amazon.com is about being "cheap," Google is about "knowing more," but Microsoft is about "doing more."

Microsoft has a bright future, Ballmer said, echoing his theme from last week's meeting with Wall Street analysts.

"I believe in you, I believe in the mission," he told employees, choking up slightly. "We've been a great company for years. We will be a great company for many more years."

(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

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