Carey won Artist of the Year, R&B Voice of the Year, Best R&B Song for "We Belong Together" and Album of the Year for her comeback hit, "The Emancipation of Mimi."
"Whatever you're going through in your life, don't ever give up," Carey said at the Saturday night event. The taped show was scheduled to air Tuesday on UPN.
The Diplomats were named Best Group.
With cognac and champagne flowing freely, rappers sporting diamonds and gold "grills" on their teeth mingled peacefully, although they had to pass through metal detectors to enter and police and security guards were plentiful.
Even hardcore rapper T.I., who won the Street Anthem award for "U Don't Know Me," acknowledged he didn't look very "hard" in a dapper velour suit and cravat. "But y'all just keep it pimping," he said onstage.
Last year, violence overshadowed the show when audience member Jimmy James Johnson approached rapper and producer Dr. Dre, seated at a table in front of the stage, and appeared to ask for an autograph before punching him. A chair-throwing melee ensued and Johnson was then allegedly stabbed by rapper Young Buck.
In September, Johnson was sentenced to a year in jail after he pleaded guilty to punching the rap mogul. Young Buck, whose given name is David Darnell Brown, has pleaded not guilty in the case and is free on bail awaiting trial.
Young Buck and Dr. Dre did not attend this year's ceremony.
Good vibes, however, did not prevent rapper The Game from creatively dissing 50 Cent, his former collaborator and current nemesis.
The night's first award, for Hottest Hook, went to "Hate It or Love It," billed as being performed by The Game featuring 50 Cent, who did not attend the ceremonies.
The Game pointedly avoided mentioning the former G-Unit rap crew member onstage but showed off the word "G-Unot" shaved into the side of his head.
The subject of possible skirmishes prompted jokes throughout the show, which was hosted by Tracee Ellis Ross from the sitcom "Girlfriends" and Anthony Anderson from "Hustle & Flow."
"Three awards have been given out, and no one's been stabbed yet. Come on black people!" said presenter Tony Rock, brother of comedian Chris Rock.
Music remained the focus.
Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, Bob Marley's son, elicited cheers for a thunderous rendition of his reggae hit, "Welcome to Jamrock," which won the Boomshot Award honoring Caribbean music.
Flames and fireworks accompanied artists affected by the hurricanes, including New Orleans-based Lil' Wayne, Houston's Paul Wall and rapper David Banner from Jacksonville, Miss.
Banner performed his hit "Play" surrounded by scantily clad women lifting weights, wearing boxing gloves and bouncing on a trampoline.
Quincy Jones presented singer Mary J. Blige with the VLegend award, a special honor for her 15 years in music.
"Like a phoenix, I stayed strong and didn't kill myself," Blige said backstage, noting her struggle over the years with depression and substance abuse.
A small number of winners did not attend, including Kanye West, who won the Best Rapper award. R. Kelly was not on hand to pick up his Reelest Video award for "Trapped in the Closet."