"I expect there will be some failures. I don't anticipate any serious problems of that sort among the large internationally active banks that make up a very substantial part of our banking system."
-- Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman, Feb. 28, 2008

With that bold (and terribly wrong) prediction as backdrop, let's recall this brutal year.

Roundtable: What Bear Stearns' Fallout Means for Investors
"No! No! No! Bear Stearns is not in trouble," said a vehement Jim Cramer in March. Less than a week later, the government brokered a sale to JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM). The hope was that saving Bear Stearns would prevent further collapse …

The People Responsible for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
Let's skip past the summertime failure of Little Mac (Indy) and get to the Big Mac (Freddie). Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae ended the charade of being quasi-governmental organizations when the Feds took them over in September.

Roundtable: Why You Should Care That Lehman Went Bust
Sunday is the new Monday! Exactly a week after the Sunday Freddie/Fannie news, our government shocked the world again. Lehman Brothers was allowed to go bankrupt.

Black Sunday on Wall Street
But that wasn't the only news. Lacking government help for a Lehman takeover, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) bought Merrill Lynch instead.

AIG's Failure Is So Much Bigger Than Enron's
And then a couple days after the Merrill Lynch acquisition, despite turning its back on Lehman Brothers, the government bailed out an insurance company -- AIG (NYSE:AIG).

The Death of Wall Street
Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) and Morgan Stanley, the last of the independent Wall Street investment banks, became bank holding companies in late September. Why? To be eligible for bailout money. Wait for it …

Paulson Backs up the Truck
After brokering the sales of Washington Mutual to JPMorgan and Wachovia to Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), Paulson and company decided to bail out the entire banking industry in one fell swoop. The $700 billion plan is the centerpiece of the government's efforts to assuage the credit crisis …

$3.9 Trillion Was a Drop in the Bucket
… but it's far from the only government action. There were handouts aplenty …

Bernanke’s Out of Bullets
… accompanied by plunging Fed interest rates.

When Will the Wild Price Swings End?
If one word sums up 2008, it's "volatility." We had $4 summer gas give way to winter gas well below $2 per gallon. Other commodities had similar wild rides. But just about everyone's least favorite wild ride was the stock market. It was volatile all right, but volatile on a decidedly downward trajectory.

So, that's our list of the biggest stories of 2008. But let's not forget the honorable mentions:

  • The housing bubble and easy credit that started it all … and the foreclosures and bankruptcies that are ending it.
  • The failed mergers of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Yahoo! and Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) and Take Two.
  • The new terms we all learned, including CDOs, auction rate securities, subprime, Alt-A, TED spread, and "Too Big to Fail."
  • Bank of America buying Countrywide … was that really this year?
  • Every company and its parent trying to become a bank holding company.
  • Treasuries briefly yielding negative returns.
  • The ongoing bailout of the Big 3 automakers.
  • Iceland's bankruptcy.
  • Money market funds breaking the buck.
  • Bernie Madoff out-Ponzi-ing Ponzi.

And finally, to round out our list, we're listing some of our favorite Fool stories here at FoolHQ:

A Tale of a Fallen Capitalist and a Tragic Blow to Global Finance
Fool Nick Kapur writes a beautiful tribute to his uncle, a rare hero in the global banking business, and it is a must-read.

Save Your 401(k) Before It's Too Late
Our special 401(k) package helped educate Fools to seize their financial futures by making the most of their 401(k) plans.

How We Can Fix a Crisis We Did Not Create vs. Bailout: The Sucker Punch
The beauty of The Motley Fool is that we can -- and often do -- disagree with each other in public. Our bailout coverage was no different, with Scott Schedler making the "for" case and Alyce Lomax taking the counterpoint.

Failing Like Japan
What an auto bailout might mean for the United States and how it can be likened to the Japanese economy.

Fool Blog: Investment Classics for Short Attention Spans
Reviews of the greatest investing texts of all time in 50 words or less.

A Letter From Tom and David Gardner
On April 1, we made an announcement that we would not be covering the stock market for six months. The next day, we revealed that this was part of our Foolish tradition on April Fools' Day. Looking back on 2008, though, maybe that wouldn't have been such a bad idea! 

It's certainly been an ugly year, but chin up, Fool. Tomorrow’s a new year … here are some predictions for the year to come!

JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Electronic Arts is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Take-Two Interactive Software is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.