The gritty former forward wiped away a tear as he watched the banner bearing his name and number ascend in front of a cheering crowd of 18,630.
"This is an incredible day," said the 38-year-old Linden, who spent 16 seasons with the Canucks. "To the fans of Vancouver and the province of B.C., it's hard to express my gratitude to you.
"Thank you for letting me into your lives. Thanks for being incredible, passionate hockey fans."
Linden's sweater joined Stan Smyl's No. 12 as the only two retired by the Canucks.
"It's a great honor to be here tonight to celebrate with Trevor," said Smyl, who remains part of the Canucks organization. "It's hard to believe it's been 20 years since the two of us took to the ice together.
"To this day I am very humbled to have my number hang in GM Place."
The hour-long ceremony, held before the Canucks game against the Edmonton Oilers, featured players from past Canucks teams. Also in attendance were Linden's wife, Cristina, his parents, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
The current Canucks skated on the ice wearing No. 16 jerseys with Linden's name on the back.
"There could be no finer representative not only of the NHL, but of professional athletes anywhere," Bettman said.
Defenseman Mattias Ohlund, Linden's roommate for seven years, said he combined skill on the ice with commitment to the community.
"Everybody knows about the hockey player he was, but he also was a great teammate and mentor," Ohlund said. "He set the perfect example both on and off the ice."
Linden said it was an emotional experience watching the banner soar toward the ceiling.
"That was pretty amazing," he said. "For me, it was just like my whole career went through my head. It was the final chapter.
"To have a place at GM Place in perpetuity is incredible. I'm somewhat shocked and overwhelmed and a bit speechless for sure."
Linden was head of the National Hockey League Players' Association during the labor dispute that forced the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.
Bettman said he and Linden "worked together through some difficult times" and added that he "demonstrated extraordinary leadership and extraordinary courage."
"Part of your duty was to contribute off the ice and in the community," said Linden, selected second overall by Vancouver in the 1988 draft. "That was something that was stressed early in my career.
"It was never a burden. It was always something I enjoyed. Once you start getting involved in the community it becomes home."