The Russian star retired Thursday just after he withdrew from the men's event at the Sochi Olympics for medical reasons.
The 31-year-old Plushenko is the only modern-era figure skater to win medals in four Olympics. He helped Russia win the team gold over the weekend.
"I think it's God saying, 'Evgeni, enough, enough with skating,'" said Plushenko, who originally was hurt in a training session Wednesday. "Age, it's OK. But I have 12 surgeries. I'd like to be healthy."
In warmups before the short program, he fell on a triple axel and said it felt "like a knife in my back." He skated toward his coaches while bent over, then tried to loosen up by skating around the Iceberg rink some more.
He then attempted another axel and botched it, shook his head and consulted with coach Alexei Mishin. When Plushenko's name was announced to the crowd seconds later — to loud applause — he skated to the event referee and withdrew.
Before the latest injury, Plushenko said he planned to go out in style.
"I said to myself, 'Evgeni, you must skate. It's two more days, short and long program,'" the 2006 Olympic gold medallist said.
He also won Olympic silver in 2002 and 2010.
Before leaving the ice, he held up both hands to the crowd as if to say he was sorry, and took a small bow.
He was Russia's only man in the competition, so the host country will have no finisher in the event.
Plushenko finished second at the Russian national championships and didn't appear headed for Sochi at all. He was added to the Russian roster late last month after a trial run-through in front of federation officials convinced them he was the country's best men's option.
That decision paid off when he finished second in the team short program and first in the free skate, helping Russia to its first gold of the Sochi Games.
In that final full practice Wednesday, he fell three times, but was laughing and joking with Mishin after two of the flops. Mishin even said Plushenko was "ready" for the men's event.
That changed Thursday, and when Plushenko limped out of the arena, the cheers turned to mild applause from the stunned audience.
"Some people say we had this plan from the very beginning, but we did not," he said. "We were going to go to the end. If I really wished to withdraw after the tem event, I would have."