Former REM drummer Bill Berry rejoined the band as they were inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Michael Stipe was joined by former bandmate Bill Berry
Berry, who left the group in 1997, teamed up with Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck to play songs from their early career at the ceremony.
But there was no reunion for rock band Van Halen - only frontman Sammy Hagar and ex-bassist Michael Anthony turned up to the New York ceremony.
Patti Smith, Grandmaster Flash and the Ronettes were also honoured.
REM, who were founded in Athens, Georgia, in 1980, were inducted by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, who called their music "truly all-encompassing".
"They used every colour on the palette, they invented colours on their own and they put up this huge mural of music and sound and emotion," he said.
But he added that while singer Stipe's voice touched him, he never used to understand a word he was singing.
Stipe said his late grandmother had felt the acronym REM stood for "'remember every moment' - and this is a moment I shall never forget".
The band are to release a cover version of John Lennon's song #9 Dream on Tuesday. The downloadable track, which features Berry on drums, will form part a compilation of Lennon tracks being released on CD in June to raise money for Amnesty International.
Van Halen's depleted line-up followed guitarist Eddie Van Halen's entry into rehab, while arguments over what to sing as a tribute with the band Velvet Revolver kept original lead singer David Lee Roth away.
Hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash was honoured at the show
Sammy Hagar said he wished his bandmates could be there, but "it's out of our control".
"It's hard for Mike and I to be up here to do this, but you couldn't have kept me away from this with a shotgun."
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five - best known for 1982's The Message - are the first hip-hop act to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Introducing them, present-day rapper Jay-Z said: "Thirty years later rappers have become rock stars, movie stars, leaders, educators, philanthropists, even CEOs. None of this would have been possible without the work of these men."
Backstage, Grandmaster Flash said he remembered a time when "the culture called hip-hop was just a passing ship in the night".
But he added: "I called it a flash of brilliance, excuse the pun."
'No curse words'
Patti Smith fought back tears as she recalled deceased loved ones, her husband Fred "Sonic" Smith and her mother.
Patti Smith dedicated her performance to her late mother
She said Smith told her to accept honours "like a lady, and not to say any curse words".
Keith Richards inducted the 1960s girl group the Ronettes, and recalled the Rolling Stones touring with them in the UK.
"They could sing all their way right through a wall of sound. They touched my heart right there and then and they touch it still," he said.
Lead singer Ronnie Spector thanked a list of people from Bruce Springsteen and Cher to her publicists, but did not mention ex-husband Phil Spector whose "wall of sound" is synonymous with the act.
Phil Spector's trial for the murder of an actress is due to start next week. He sent a message wishing the group "all the happiness and good fortune the world has to offer".
Tributes were also paid to James Brown and to Atlantic Records executive Ahmet Ertegun, who helped found the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who both died in December.
Aretha Franklin performed the first million-seller she made with Ertegun, I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You).