“We came here to support him on his departure,” said 19-year-old Alexis Patarot. “There’s a feeling of deception that he didn’t get to stay the five years,” he added.
Others were hopeful Mr Sarkozy would remain in politics. “He’s a political animal,” said Danielle Goddard, 65. “He’s made us proud. He’s run the country properly…I felt safe with him, and I can’t say the same for this one,” she said, referring to president-elect, Francois Hollande.
The ceremony itself will be relatively simple - with no other heads of state invited - and Hollande will then take an open-topped ride in a Citroen up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, waving to the crowd.
In separate ceremonies, he will then pay tribute to 19th-century educational reformer Jules Ferry - father of France's free, secular education system - and to Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist.
At 1400 GMT Hollande will fly to Berlin, where he faces an uncertain reception from Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Sarkozy ally and the main backer of the European Union's fiscal austerity drive.
Hollande has vowed to refocus European economic policy on growth by re-opening talks on a fiscal pact agreed in March that aims to control European debt by enshrining greater budget discipline.
The deal was Merkel's brainchild and she has repeatedly insisted since Hollande's election that the pact, signed by 25 of the 27 EU countries and already ratified in some, is not open to renegotiation.
But observers say there is room for compromise, with Hollande likely to agree to additional stimulus measures without a rewrite of the pact.
And with political paralysis in Greece raising the spectre of the country being forced from the eurozone, the heads of Europe's two largest economies will be keen to reassure worried markets they can work together.
Before he heads to Berlin, Hollande's first order of business will be to nominate a prime minister, who will be tasked with forming a government before a first cabinet session likely on Thursday.
The Socialists have been careful to let nothing slip, but Ayrault, a 62-year-old longtime Hollande ally, is considered first in line for the job.
Other contenders include Socialist Party leader and former labour minister Martine Aubry, Hollande's communications director during the campaign, Manuel Valls, and his campaign and transition chief Pierre Moscovici.
Once the cabinet is named, the focus will move to the Socialists' campaign to win a parliamentary majority in June's legislative elections - a key test for the party after Hollande's win.
New official estimates of how the French economy performed in the first quarter showed that it had not grown, raising fears that it could be heading for recession.
Mr Hollande has ordered an audit of government finances, but EU forecasts suggest he will struggle to meet his goal of cutting the deficit to three percent of gross domestic product by 2013 and balancing the books by 2017.
After Mrs Merkel, Hollande heads to the United States where he is to meet President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday ahead of back-to-back G8 then NATO summits.
These meetings are also expected to be a test, as he explains his decision to pull French forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, a year ahead of schedule.