The two-hour program aired on NBC Universal-owned stations, with all donations going to the American Red Cross International Response Fund.
"We have a choice," actor Clint Eastwood said. "We can either look away or we can help."
The benefit wasn't without a glitch: Singer John Mayer uttered an expletive that got on the air, even though NBC was using a five-second delay to protect against such things.
Women had their choice of heartthrobs answering phones and taking pledges in the NBC Universal studios in Los Angeles: Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Nicolas Cage, Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Tom Selleck and James Caan.
The concert was reminiscent of a similar benefit that ran on more than 30 television networks less than two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. That benefit raised nearly $130 million for that cause.
In an echo of that concert three years ago, Madonna sang John Lennon's "Imagine," dressed in a black dress. Singer Neil Young performed the same song at the 2001 benefit.
Actors told stories about the tsunami, and NBC showed pictures of the effects of the devastating waves and the agony of children left behind.
Morgan Freeman told of a 60-year-old man in Sri Lanka who survived for two weeks before being found by rescuers.
"Miracles do happen," he said. "You can be that miracle also."
While he was singing "Bold as Love," Mayer swore while backing away from the microphone during a guitar solo. The audio briefly cut out about a second or two after he had said it.
NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks acknowledged the incident and said NBC's standards people had been too slow on the button to remove it. She said it would be bleeped out when NBC showed the telethon by tape delay on the West Coast.
NBC is only two weeks removed from a New Year's Eve telecast where Motley Crue's Vince Neil swore while wishing bandmate Tommy Lee a happy New Year — instigating a Federal Communications Commission investigation.
Appearing also was Fox News Channel commentator Bill O'Reilly, who had questioned on his show whether participating stars would follow through to see if the money made it to its intended beneficiaries. Clooney immediately challenged O'Reilly to do his part and participate.
When people are in trouble, "they turn to friends who become their lifeline," O'Reilly said. "Who are their friends? You are."
Gloria Estefan sang "There's Always Tomorrow," former Beach Boy Brian Wilson sang "Love and Mercy" and Lenny Kravitz sang "Let Love Rule." In pre-taped performances from London, Elton John sang "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters sang "Wish You Were Here," accompanied by Eric Clapton.
Viewers were continually urged to call 1-800-HELPNOW or log on to the Red Cross' Web site. Besides NBC, the program was carried on CNBC, MSNBC, USA, Bravo, Telemundo, Pax TV, Trio and the Sci-Fi Channel.
NBC said it had no immediate estimate on how much money was raised.
Sony's Connect music store will offer downloads of live performances from the concert, with proceeds going to the American Red Cross. SBC Communications is underwriting the commercial-free program.