Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky and Delaware, along with Washington and Philadelphia, at some stage all declared emergencies.
Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty expressed confidence that most city streets would be cleared by Monday.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg remained upbeat, saying the snow fell too late on Saturday to affect Christmas trading severely.
"Hopefully, we'll have a little bit of a white Christmas," he said.
Some tourists were happy. Briton Kevin Sanders said: "We just came off the Statue of Liberty when [the snow] came down last night, and look this morning. It's amazing. It gives it the Christmas feel as well."
Others suffered more difficulties - about 150 people were stranded for five hours on a Long Island train.
Airports in Washington, Baltimore and Boston also experienced severe problems.
Snowstorm blankets US East Coast
The storm also brought wind gusts of up to 60mph (96km/h).
The Greyhound bus firm cancelled services on nearly 300 routes across the eastern seaboard, while Amtrak trains were hit by cancellations and major delays.
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