E-commerce accelerated during the second and third quarters of 2020, when consumers sheltered at home and turned to the internet to order goods. That acceleration doesn't seem to have tapered off -- at least not according to Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) blowout fourth-quarter results. Sales surged during the quarter and earnings per share skyrocketed.

Despite Amazon's surprising results, there was even bigger news in the e-commerce giant's fourth-quarter update than the company's strong financial performance. As of the third quarter of 2021, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is stepping down from his current role, transitioning into an executive chairperson position.

Boxes in an Amazon fulfillment center.

Image source: Amazon. 

Why Bezos is stepping down

Bezos has had quite a run as Amazon's CEO. The idea of Amazon came to Bezos about 27 years ago. Today, the founder and CEO is one of the richest people in the world. He's ready to step back from the company's most important executive position, handing over the reins to Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy.

In Bezos' new role as executive chairman, the founder will spend his time on "new products and early initiatives," Bezos said in an email to employees.

Is this just a creative way to mask a retirement? Not according to Bezos.

"As Exec Chair I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions," the founder explained. "I've never had more energy, and this isn't about retiring. I'm super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have."


Jassy is taking over Amazon at a time of staggering momentum.

"Amazon couldn't be better positioned for the future," Bezos said in his email. "We are firing on all cylinders, just as the world needs us to. We have things in the pipeline that will continue to astonish."

The company's fourth-quarter financial results put figures behind Bezos' interpretation of the company's current state. Revenue during the period surged 44% year over year to a record $125.6 billion. This is up from $87.4 billion in the year-ago quarter and $96.1 billion in the third quarter of 2020.

Net income? $7.2 billion in Q4 alone, translating to $14.09 per share. This is up from $3.3 billion and $6.47 in the year-ago quarter.

Analyst expectations were laughable compared to these results, with consensus forecasts for revenue and earnings per share coming in at $119.7 billion and $7.23, respectively.

Good luck, Jassy. You're taking the wheel of one of the best-built businesses to have ever existed. The stakes are high -- and so are the expectations. But at least you have momentum working in your favor.