The announcement comes on the heels of the team's stunning five-game first-round playoff loss to the Philadelphia Flyers last week.
"After reflection and 17 years of coaching, I decided to retire," Lemaire told the media during a press conference at Prudential Center. "It's tough to leave what you like aside, but it's a decision that I made and I will do."
Lemaire said he asked Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello to break the news to the team since he was too emotional at the time.
"Lou did it for me because I tried to tell the coaching staff and I had a hard time," Lemaire said. "I didn't tell the players, Lou did it for me. I tried to tell the coaching staff and had a hard time."
Lamoriello, who said Lemaire's decision was made over the last 24 hours, has not yet announced a new coach or made any decisions on the future of Lemaire's assistants, which include Mario Tremblay, Tommy Albelin, Scott Stevens, Jacques Caron and Larry Robinson.
This season, the Devils finished with 103 points and won the Atlantic Division. But as the second seed in the playoffs, they were eliminated by the seventh-seeded Flyers, who finished 15 points behind them in the standings.
Lemaire said the first-round setback to the Flyers had nothing to do with his decision on Monday; rather, it was the grind of an 82-game schedule that seemed to wear on the 64-year-old coach.
"I felt we had a chance to do good in the playoffs," Lemaire said. "It's not the team or the result or lack of result in the playoffs, it's not that at all. It's the end of the line -- I'll be 65 (on Sept. 7). It's just time."
After spending nine years as coach of the Minnesota Wild, where he compiled a 293-255-108 record, Lemaire rejoined the Devils on July 13, 2009 for his second stint with the organization. Lemaire previously coached New Jersey from 1993-94 through 1997-98. He went 199-122-57 in that span, making the playoffs five times and winning the 1995 Stanley Cup.
"It started my last year in Minnesota," Lemaire said. "I was starting to think about retirement and Lou came to my place (in Montreal) and asked me if I was interested to coach again. I looked at the team, looked at the organization and I got excited again because I love the game and always have passion for the game, especially (because) it was Lou and I worked for him in the past and I knew how he does things and the team. I went on and accepted the challenge and the year went really well."
The announcement took many of the players by surprise.
"It was definitely a surprise," said Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner. "I don't think any of us had any idea. He's done a lot of good things in hockey and it's nice when you can kind of choose when you want to go."
Devils forward Zach Parise now has gone through five different head coaches in five seasons in New Jersey -- Robinson, Lamoriello, Claude Julien, Brent Sutter and Lemaire.
"A lot of us weren't anticipating this happening and are surprised," said Parise. "I've been here five years and am kind of getting used to different coaches. It's going to be a long summer again."
Lemaire's specialty is defense and the Devils certainly were solid in that area all season, winning the Williams Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed during the regular-season (186).
Following his team's 3-0 loss in Game 5 to the Flyers last Thursday, Lemaire said he still "loves coaching."
"This is something I've been doing for a long time," he said. "I enjoy being around the players and trying to make them play as well as they can play, try to find ways to make them play as a team. It's a great life. That's why I love it."
"I felt we had a chance to do good in the playoffs. It's not the team or the result or lack of result in the playoffs, it's not that at all. It's the end of the line -- I'll be 65 (on Sept. 7). It's just time."
-- Jacques Lemaire
"When I accepted this (job), I thought we had a chance to go for the Cup and this is the reason why I accepted it," he said. "You talk about frustration, it is. After one series, you're out when you're thinking of maybe making two, three, four (rounds)."
Lemaire, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984 following a 12-season playing career with the Montreal Canadiens, was a member of eight Cup-winning teams in Montreal. The LaSalle, Que., native also served as an associate coach for gold-medal winning Team Canada at 2010 Olympics.
Jacques Lemaire's NHL Coaching Record REGULAR SEASON Gms. W-L-OT Finish 1983-84 Montreal 17 7-10-0 4th/Adams 1984-85 Montreal 80 41-27-12 1st/Adams 1993-94 New Jersey 84 47-25-12 2nd/Atlantic 1994-95 New Jersey 48 22-18-8 2nd/Atlantic 1995-96 New Jersey 82 37-33-12 6th/Atlantic 1996-97 New Jersey 82 45-23-14 1st/Atlantic 1997-98 New Jersey 82 48-23-11 1st/Atlantic 2000-01 Minnesota 82 25-39-18 5th/Northwest 2001-02 Minnesota 82 26-35-21 5th/Northwest 2002-03 Minnesota 82 42-29-11 3rd/Northwest 2003-04 Minnesota 82 30-29-23 5th/Northwest 2005-06 Minnesota 82 38-36-8 5th/Northwest 2006-07 Minnesota 82 48-26-8 2nd/Northwest 2007-08 Minnesota 82 44-28-10 1st/Northwest 2008-09 Minnesota 82 40-33-9 3rd/Northwest 2009-10 New Jersey 82 48-27-7 1st/Atlantic TOTAL 1,213 588-441-184 PLAYOFFS Gms. W-L Finish 1983-84 Montreal 15 9-6 Lost Conf. Final 1984-85 Montreal 12 6-6 Lost Div. Final 1993-94 New Jersey 20 11-9 Lost Conf. Final 1994-95 New Jersey 20 16-4 Won Stanley Cup 1996-97 New Jersey 10 5-5 Lost Conf. Semifinal 1997-98 New Jersey 6 2-4 Lost Conf. Quarterfinal 2002-03 Minnesota 18 8-10 Lost Conf. Final 2006-07 Minnesota 5 1-4 Lost Conf. Quarterfinal 2007-08 Minnesota 6 2-4 Lost Conf. Quarterfinal 2009-10 New Jersey 5 1-4 Lost Conf. Quarterfinal TOTAL 117 61-56