The Most Heartbreaking TV Breakups of All Time
We loved these TV couples so much that we couldn't handle seeing them part ways.
It might sound silly, but sometimes we're almost as invested in fictional relationships as we are in our own. We root for characters on our favorite shows to get together, swoon at their first kiss, and then grieve with them when things fall apart. In honor of those memorable splits, we've compiled a list of the 20 saddest TV breakups.
While some of these couples ended up getting back together, others stayed apart for good. Either way, we cried a whole lot. Read on to see how many of these heartbreaking moments you remember—just be warned that there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead. And for more times TV shows had us reaching for the tissues, revisit The Saddest TV Episodes of All Time.
Cristina/Burke, Grey's Anatomy
It's not so much that we felt like Cristina and Burke were meant to be together, but that the image of her breaking down in her wedding dress after being left at the altar has haunted us for years. She deserved so much better.
The tough thing about endgame couples like Sam and Diane—the pairing Cheers had been setting up from the beginning—is that sometimes the show goes on longer than one of the actors wants to be on it. And so, Shelley Long decided to depart, forcing a bittersweet conclusion to this long-awaited romance. (She returned for the finale, but that didn't end well either.)
And speaking of TV that didn't end well, check out The Most Hated TV Finales of All Time.
Whether or not you think they were on a break, and even if you know they eventually end up together (she got off the plane!), Ross and Rachel's breakup is arguably the most devastating Friends moment. They're each other's lobsters! Beyond that, Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer showcase the real emotional interiority of these sitcom characters.
And for some less favorable work from Aniston, check out The Worst Jennifer Aniston Movie of All Time, According to Critics.
Carrie/Aidan, Sex and the City
Carrie had a lot of not-so-great relationships over the course of Sex and the City, but if we had to pick one man who actually seemed to treat her right, it would clearly be Aidan. Unfortunately, she wasn't ready for commitment. (The less said about his appearance in the awful second movie, the better.)
Rory/Dean, Gilmore Girls
While many people took Rory's breakup with Jess harder—her telling him she was in love with him over the phone before ending things certainly stung—there's nothing like the heartbreak of losing your first love.
Glee didn't always use pop songs to its advantage, sometimes choosing a recent hit simply because it was getting a lot of radio play. In the case of Santana and Brittany's breakup, however, the show had the late Naya Rivera deliver a pitch-perfect performance of Taylor Swift's "Mine" that completely wrecked us.
Pacey/Joey, Dawson's Creek
Most Dawson's Creek fans agree that Joey and Pacey always made more sense together than Joey and Dawson did. Thankfully, the show also realized that, solidifying their romance for good in the series finale. But there were bumps along the road, including a particularly brutal breakup at the prom.
Sheldon/Amy, The Big Bang Theory
After struggling to articulate and act on his feelings for Amy, Sheldon finally decides to propose to her—but she breaks up with him before he can go through with it. For a series that didn't often make us emotional, this gut-punch of a season finale got us good.
And for more behind-the-scenes gossip about this show, check out Kaley Cuoco Says "Big Bang" Gave Her Love Scenes With Her Ex "On Purpose."
Jess/Nick, New Girl
This is another one of those will-they-or-won't-they TV pairings where they will and they do… and then they don't. Of course, Jess and Nick do find their way to each other again, but it's still hard seeing them split up when they realize they're in different places in life.
Brenda/Dylan, Beverly Hills, 90210
True Beverly Hills, 90210 fans will never be able to hear R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" without remembering Dylan and Brenda's breakup after a pregnancy scare. This wasn't even their worst breakup, but it was a painful reminder that even the coolest '90s couple couldn't last forever.
Lily/Marshall, How I Met Your Mother
Lily and Marshall seemed like the stable couple on How I Met Your Mother, and they were for most of the show's run. That didn't stop them from breaking up at the end of the first season, leaving Marshall to wallow in his grief during their summer apart, and forcing viewers to do the same.
Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
What is it about Alyson Hannigan and TV breakups? Years before How I Met Your Mother, she showcased her tremendous crying skills when Tara left Willow over Willow's magic manipulation. The use of Michelle Branch's "Goodbye to You" made this the most memorable Buffy the Vampire Slayer breakup. And the fact that Tara died right after they got back together adds another layer of pain.
Eric/Donna, That '70s Show
With some exceptions, high school couples aren't really meant to last forever. TV shows often have them get back together in the end—as That '70s Show did when Topher Grace returned for the series finale—but we still grieved Eric and Donna realizing they had to part ways. And for more TV content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Alexis/Ted, Schitt's Creek
Sometimes the mature breakups are the hardest to endure. Alexis and Ted are very much still in love with each other when they decide to split up, and that makes it all the more upsetting. Their final romantic meal together is almost unbearably bittersweet. And for more recent shows we love, discover The Best TV Shows of 2020, According to Critics.
Kevin/Winnie, The Wonder Years
Kevin and Winnie got together and broke up repeatedly throughout The Wonder Years, but the moment that hurt the most was Winnie telling Kevin she'd met someone else. That is, until the series finale revealed that Kevin went on to marry and have a family with someone else.
In many ways, Olivia and Fitz's relationship had overstayed its welcome on Scandal by the time these two finally ended their affair for good. That doesn't mean we didn't cry when it actually happened. So much for that house in Vermont. And for the couples we sometimes couldn't stand, these are The Most Hated TV Couples of All Time.
Veronica/Logan, Veronica Mars
Don't worry—while Logan broke up with Veronica, the couple known online as LoVe found their way to each other again, even getting married in the revival season. Just do yourself a favor and don't read about what happened to Logan immediately after that. And for reboots that let us down, check out The 13 Most Disappointing TV Reboots of All Time.
Blair/Chuck, Gossip Girl
Blair and Chuck are another couple who hooked up and broke up over and over again, but ended up together in the end. Their worst breakup happened after she learned that he had gifted his creepy uncle a night with Blair in exchange for ownership of the hotel. Yes, really, and they still got married in the series finale. That's life on the Upper East Side, kids!
Mindy/Danny, The Mindy Project
Chris Messina returned in a recurring role in the final season of The Mindy Project, paving the way for this couple's ultimate reconciliation. Before that, however, they had a painful breakup, necessitated by Mindy realizing that Danny expected her to be a stay-at-home mom to their child.
Stefan/Elena, The Vampire Diaries
Here's the thing: Stefan and Elena broke up multiple times over the course of The Vampire Diaries, and it always hurt. The first one might sting the most, as it showed how incredible Paul Wesley and Nina Dobrev are at crying. And for more emotional moments we can't forget, check out The Most Heartbreaking Movie Couples of All Time.