Kimmel went without a studio audience on the show "because going forward with a comedy show didn't feel right, considering what happened yesterday."
His remembrance of Bryant, who appeared 15 times on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" over the years, characterized an emotional night for Kimmel and fellow late-night hosts Jimmy Fallon, James Corden and Conan O'Brien as they lamented the death of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
They were the latest tributes on top of the countless ones that have poured in from across the world for the nine victims of the crash.
"That was a punch in the gut for many of us,'' Kimmel said. "He was just the last person you could ever imagine something like this happening to. He was so strong and handsome and smart and energetic. He was a hero.
"And when I say that, I don't mean a hero like real heroes like firefighters or doctors and nurses who actually save lives. I don't mean to compare what he did for a living to what they do ... but Kobe was a hero in the way Superman is a hero. He was so big it was almost like he was a fictional character. He was a real-life superhero with a costume and everything walking amongst us.
"It seemed like he always came through, he always showed up to save the day. ... He was talented beyond reason and yet he worked harder than everyone."
Kimmel noted how Bryant was beloved in Los Angeles, where he grew from a 17-year-old rookie to a future Hall of Famer who won five NBA titles and made 18 All-Star appearances for the Lakers.
He remembered Bryant as a dedicated, caring father who was excited to be more involved in his daughters' lives following his 2016 retirement. Bryant also regularly reached out to Kimmel to check on the health of Kimmel's son, Jimmy, 2, who was born with a congenital heart condition called tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia and has undergone two heart surgeries.
"This was a terrible loss for those families, for the Lakers, for Kobe's teammates, for his fans,'' Kimmel said while holding back tears. "There's no silver lining here. It's all bad, it's all sad. He was a bright light, and that's how I want to remember him."
Kimmel replayed old clips of his interviews with Bryant over the years before closing by saying Bryant is "gone but will never be forgotten."
Fallon remembered on "The Tonight Show" how he first met Bryant when he was a 17-year-old rookie on the Lakers who was drafted right out of high school.
Fallon was a 21-year-old comic in Los Angeles at the time and met him at a party, where they ended up saving the day with a beer run that only came to fruition when Bryant told the liquor store owner that he played for the Lakers.
"When we'd run into each other over the years we'd laugh about that night we first met," Fallon tearfully said. "We'd laugh at all the good things that happened since, and we'd laugh at much fun it was to raise kids and all the stupid mistakes we made trying to figure out how to be good dads. Kobe had four daughters and I had two daughters, and today he and one of his girls are gone.
"I think I knew Kobe enough to know he rose to any challenge by digging deeper and getting back to work, so let's honor Kobe, Gianna and the other lives that were lost yesterday by following his example. Love your family, love your teammates, and outwork everyone else in the gym. To Vanessa (Bryant) and all those affected by this tragedy, we love you and we will always be there for all of you, and Kobe, when we meet again, we're going on a beer run."
Fallon also shared his remembrances of first meeting Bryant on TODAY Tuesday.
"Watching his career and watching what he became, it's pretty amazing,'' he said. "He's one of the greatest ever. I'm gonna miss him."
Corden spoke in his opening monologue on "The Late Late Show" about how he knew about Bryant even though NBA basketball was not a big presence in England when he was growing up.
"There are some athletes that transcend their sports before you ever even get a chance to see them play, and Kobe Bryant was one of those athletes," Corden said.
Corden also remembered Bryant's last appearance on his show following his retirement.
"He couldn't stop talking about how excited he was to have all this free time to devote to his family and to coach his daughters,'' Corden said. "I remember loving hearing him talk like that, a man who had achieved so much in his life. He was so excited to just to get to be a dad for a while."
Corden also mourned the loss of the seven others who died in the crash "whose loss is no less profound."
"I wish I could say something to make sense of it all, but I can't find the words,'' he said. "All I can think of is this: If you can, take a moment, tonight or tomorrow, to call up someone you love and just let them know."
O'Brien, whose show is based in Los Angeles, remembered Bryant as "naturally very funny and charming" in addition to being a legend on the basketball court. O'Brien then shared some clips of his interviews with Bryant.
"A superstar does not have to be a great guest, but he just was,'' O'Brien said. "Whenever he was on our show, he was a joy to talk with and he always had the audience in the palm of his hand. That's the guy I've been thinking about these past 24 hours, and it's that memory I would like to share with you tonight."
The emotional late-night tributes to Bryant followed a tearful speech by daytime host Ellen DeGeneres on her show Monday as she reflected on the tragedy.
“Life is short and it’s fragile, and we don’t know how many birthdays we have so just — you don’t have to have a birthday to celebrate — just celebrate life,” she said, as her eyes filled with tears. “And if you haven’t told someone you love them, do it now. ... Call your friends, text your friends, hug them, kiss them, be nice to the people at the DMV.”