After nearly 22 years playing fan favorite Sami Brady, Sweeney officially retired from the show last week, but not before one last scene.
"All of a sudden I'm walking out on stage and there's this huge crowd of people," Sweeney, 37, tells PEOPLE of the surprise send-off members of the cast and crew put together for her. "I realized they were gathering for me. It was so amazing and so touching and special."
And it was emotional. After seeing some cast members she'd worked with back when she started the show as a teenager, "It was hard to keep it together," says Sweeney. "My kids [Benjamin, 9, and Megan, 5] were there, so I feel like that helped me avoid the ugly cry. But I totally had tears streaming down my face."
Among the things she had to lug home from her dressing room: "Fans sent me goodbye gifts. I got a beautiful bracelet with an infinity symbol saying they'll be my fans forever," she says. "They went out of their way."
"I still woke up at 6 o'clock in the morning the next day, like, 'Oh my God I'm late!' "
Meanwhile, her new novel Scared Scriptless, out Tuesday, has a title that hits close to home.
"It's funny because I am now scriptless. It is scary not having a huge stack of scripts to read," Sweeney says. "It's a brand new world for me."