Ending a tumultuous year of political scandal, the Senate acquitted President Clinton of high crimes and misdemeanors yesterday, after House prosecutors failed to muster even a bare majority of senators in favor of removing the nation's 42nd president from office.

Five weeks after the Senate convened the second presidential impeachment trial in history, 50 senators voted to convict the president of obstruction of justice -- far short of the 67 votes needed to oust him. Five Republicans -- all of them Northeastern moderates -- joined all 45 Democrats in finding Clinton not guilty of obstruction.

On the other charge, perjury, only 45 senators found Clinton guilty, a startling rebuke to the prosecutors. Ten Republicans, from across the country and the political spectrum, joined a unanimous Democratic caucus in acquitting Clinton of perjury.

The prosecutors had hoped for at least a simple majority on one of the counts as a semblance of vindication of the House impeachment votes, which were cast almost completely along party lines.

But in the Senate, the only party line to crack was Republican. Even some Republican senators who voted to convict acknowledged the symbolic importance of yesterday's tallies.

"Sure, it's significant; the presidentwon," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican who voted to convict Clinton on both articles of impeachment. "He would have won if it was just an up-or-down vote."

The president escaped a formal reprimand after Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican, moved to block a toughly worded censure motion drafted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Sen. Robert F. Bennett, a Utah Republican.

The censure resolution would have formally tarred Clinton for having "deliberately misled and deceived the American people" and for "impeding" the judicial process.

But some Republicans believed the resolution was designed to give Democrats political cover for their acquittal votes and represented a remedy for presidential misconduct outside the framework of the Constitution.

Under Senate rules, censure proponents needed 67 votes to bring the motion to a vote. They drew 56.

An afternoon bomb scare deprived Democrats of a chance to informally discuss censure on the Senate floor -- and probably to excoriate Clinton's conduct.

But Clinton could hardly claim exoneration from a Senate that was bipartisan in its conclusion that his behavior, if not criminal, was nevertheless deplorable and morally indefensible.

Two hours after his acquittal, the president pleaded for reconciliation in a brief but contrite message to the nation, trying to appear at once remorseful and forward-looking.

"I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people," he said in a Rose Garden statement.

"Now I ask all Americans, and I hope all Americans, here in Washington and throughout our land, will rededicate ourselves to the work of serving our nation and building our future together. This can be and this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal for America," he concluded.

As the president turned to go back inside the White House, a reporter asked whether he could forgive and forget. Clinton replied, "I believe any person who asks for forgiveness has to be prepared to give it."

The president's acquittal lacked the drama that had preceded his impeachment by the House. For weeks, it has been clear that the prosecutors would never amass the two-thirds majority needed to remove a president for the first time in the nation's history. The only suspense concerned the final tally.

Nevertheless, after Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist intoned, "Senators, how say you, guilty or not guilty?" the majesty of the moment was inescapable. One lawmaker after another stood in the silent Senate to deliver a verdict, some forcefully, others in barely a whisper.

A half-dozen House Democrats -- including some of the most vocal Clinton defenders -- Reps. Maxine Waters of California and John Lewis of Georgia -- entered the Senate chamber to witness the trial's end.