Emily Rowlinson, from London, said: "We don't have anything like this in England. We have parades. We don't have any sort of huge, floating beasts. It's very cool."
As millions more watched the live broadcast on television, crowds gathered for other parades in cities such as Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Entertainers in New York included Kanye West, Gladys Knight and Colombian rocker Juanes. The Broadway casts of American Idiot and Elf performed, along with marching bands from across the country.
The Macy's parade started in 1924 when employees from the department store marched in costume from Harlem to Macy's store on 34th Street.
It was suspended from 1942 to 1944 because rubber and helium were needed for the Second World War, making yesterday's parade the 84th.
The parade followed the route it inaugurated last year, starting on Central Park West and proceeding down Seventh and Sixth avenues to 34th Street. The route had to be changed when vehicles were banned from parts of Broadway.
Workers had removed street lights and traffic lights to make way for the massive balloons and were standing by to replace the equipment.
In Detroit, a morning drizzle and chilly temperatures weren't enough to keep John and Matt Fisher from attending that city's parade. The father and son had their recreational vehicle set up a day ahead of time and by yesterday morning had a prime spot for watching it - with coffee, hot cocoa, soup and chilli dogs.
"Got to see Santa," said John Fisher, 53. "If we don't, we're not sure he's gonna bring presents."