Jiangsu FC captain Wu Xi said he had "thousands of emotions" as he left the collapsed champions to join Chinese Super League rivals Shanghai Shenhua.
The 32-year-old Chinese international returns to his former club having led Jiangsu to their first domestic league title in November.
However, Jiangsu have since "ceased operations" after struggling owners Suning pulled the plug on the team, provoking hand-wringing in China about the wider state of football there.
Writing a heartfelt farewell on the Twitter-like Weibo after nine years at Jiangsu, Wu said: "I never thought of leaving like this. Everything that has happened here is like a movie to me.
"The team together reached the peak but we also experienced troughs."
Wu, who played for traditional heavyweights Shenhua from 2009 to 2013 and has 68 caps for his country, rejoins on a free transfer.
The loss of their influential skipper -- and to one of their big rivals -- is another kick in the teeth for Jiangsu fans.
Their team has gone from being crowned champions four months ago to now being on the brink of being disbanded.
The CSL usually kicks off in March but Chinese football chiefs are yet to announce a date for the new season.
Jiangsu look certain to be disbanded, while fellow CSL outfit Tianjin Tigers are also on the verge of going under.