The US president, Joe Biden, joined world leaders arriving in London to pay their respects to the Queen on Sunday, crossing himself as he witnessed her coffin lying in state in Westminster Hall for the last night before her funeral.

He followed the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, the president of Singapore, Halimah Yacob, the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, the head of state of Samoa, Tuimaleali’ifano Va’aleto’a Sualauvi II, and the president of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, among other leaders filing past the coffin alongside members of the public.

Public crowds were cleared outside Buckingham Palace in time for hundreds more foreign dignitaries arriving on Sunday evening for a state reception in the picture gallery and state apartments hosted by the King and Queen Consort before the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey at 11am on Monday.

They included the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog; the King of Jordan; Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine; and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen.

Biden, who arrived in his “Beast” limousine, said: “To all the people of England, all the people of the United Kingdom, our hearts go out to you. You were fortunate to have had her for 70 years, we all were. The world is better for her.” He described her as “decent, honourable and all about service”.

Among those attending one of the largest gatherings of world leaders in decades were the populist president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, and the leaders of Bangladesh, Ghana and South Africa, as well as the prime minister of Ukraine, Denys Shmyhal. The Princess of Wales met Olena Zelenska in an audience at Buckingham Palace before the reception.

David Manning, the former UK ambassador to Washington, described the event as “quite exceptional”.

“There is a global response to the passing of the Queen and you see this wish to be associated with her expressing itself in this extraordinary number of visitors to London, heads of state and heads of government,” he said.

Leaders signing the book of condolences at Lancaster House before the reception included the prime ministers of Cameroon, Fiji, Guinea Bissau, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mongolia, Niger and Serbia, and the presidents of Armenia, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Gabon, Georgia, Ghana, Hungary, Nigeria, North Macedonia and Poland.

In a statement Trudeau said: “Her presence throughout my life has been constant, inspiring and graceful. As prime minister I benefited from her counsel, thoughtfulness, and curiosity, her sense of humour.”

Trudeau held brief talks with the prime minister, Liz Truss, at Downing Street, as did the Irish premier Micheál Martin who, amid tensions over the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol, said: “The opportunity is there for us to reset relationships and to be conscious of what we achieved in previous years, the obstacles that were overcome then.”

Not attending the funeral, it was reported on Sunday, was Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It had been thought he might travel to the UK to pay his condolences to the royal family, possibly not at the funeral, but even that was condemned by human rights activists such as Hatice Cengiz, fiance of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the kingdom, whose murder, US intelligence concluded, was approved by the crown prince.

Saudi Arabia would be represented instead by Prince Turki bin Mohammed al Saud, the source said.

Another notable absentee was Vladimir Putin, who was among a small handful of statesmen not invited, including the leaders of Belarus, Myanmar, North Korea and Syria.