They smothered him in hugs and kisses, placed a traditional Sotho basketweave hat on his head, and strewed blankets on the ground to pave his walk to the terminal building.
The king wept as he embraced his son Letsie, installed by the military as king after deposing him.
King Moshoeshoe's return is being monitored by two emissaries from the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, who acted as the intermediary in arranging the terms of his return with Lesotho's six-man ruling military council.
Police at the airport were extremely edgy as hundreds heard the king make a homecoming speech in Sesotho.
Fears have been expressed that the king's reappearance could raise the political temperature before elections in November to return the kingdom of 1.8 million people to civilian rule.
King Moshoeshoe, 54, went into exile in February 1990 after a row with Lesotho's then military ruler, Major-General Metsing Lekhanya, over the powers of the monarchy.
The present head of the military council, Major-General Elias Ramaema, who seized power in April last year, flew to London in June to prepare the terms of the king's return.