In March 2017, the main cast members (Galecki, Parsons, Cuoco, Helberg, and Nayyar) took a 10% pay cut to allow Bialik and Rauch an increase in their earnings. This put Galecki, Parsons, Cuoco, Helberg and Nayyar at $900,000 per episode, with Parsons, Galecki, and Helberg also receiving overall deals with Warner Bros. Television. By the end of April, Bialik and Rauch had signed deals to earn $500,000 per episode, each, with the deals also including a separate development component for both actors. The deal was an increase from the $175,000 – $200,000 the duo had been making per episode.
Kunal Nayyar as Rajesh Koothrappali: A particle astrophysicist originally from New Delhi, India. Raj is initially unable to talk to women unless he drinks alcohol. Raj also has very feminine tastes and often takes on a stereotypical female role in his friendship with Howard as well as in the group of four men. Raj later dates Lucy (Kate Micucci), who also suffers from social anxiety, but it eventually ends; he later speaks to Penny without alcohol and thus overcomes his selective mutism. He begins dating Emily and their relationship later becomes exclusive. Raj also has a Yorkshire Terrier named Cinnamon.
Melissa Rauch as Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz (recurring season 3, starring seasons 4–12): A young woman who initially is a co-worker at The Cheesecake Factory with Penny to pay her way through graduate school, where she is studying microbiology. Bernadette is introduced to Howard by Penny; at first, they do not get along, apparently having nothing in common. They date and later get engaged and married. Although generally a sweet and good-natured person, Bernadette has a short fuse and can be vindictive and lash out when provoked.
Johnny Galecki as Leonard Hofstadter: An experimental physicist with an IQ of 173, who received his PhD when he was 24 years old. Leonard is a nerd who loves video games, comic books, and Dungeons & Dragons. Leonard is the straight man of the series, in which he shares an apartment in Pasadena, CA, with Sheldon. Leonard is smitten with his new neighbor Penny when they first meet, and they eventually marry.
Science has also interfered with the characters' romantic lives. Leslie breaks up with Leonard when he sides with Sheldon in his support for string theory rather than loop quantum gravity. When Leonard joins Sheldon, Raj, and Howard on a three-month Arctic research trip, it separates Leonard and Penny at a time when their relationship is budding. When Bernadette takes an interest in Leonard's work, it makes both Penny and Howard envious and results in Howard confronting Leonard, and Penny asking Sheldon to teach her physics. Sheldon and Amy also briefly end their relationship after an argument over which of their fields is superior.
Professor Proton, Sheldon's favorite childhood show, is being rebooted. After unsuccessfully auditioning for the part, he goes to Wil Wheaton for acting tips for his second audition. However, Sheldon is later dismayed when Wil is offered the role instead. Talking it over with Arthur in his dreams, he is still upset to see his idol replaced and considers Wil an enemy again. Meanwhile, Howard gets a vasectomy while Bernadette is on bed rest. Penny offers to take care of Halley for them, but they insult her by expecting her to be irresponsible. Halley ends up saying her first word by calling Penny "Mama."
Leonard tells Zack and Marissa he will father their child, but Penny tries to seduce him despite knowing he has to be abstinent for a few days. Her visiting father, Wyatt, points out her actions suggest she is more conflicted over having kids than she lets on, which she admits. Wyatt says he will support her no matter what. Meanwhile, Sheldon and Amy warn that he will not be allowed to raise a child that is not his. Leonard decides not to go through with it; he tells Zack to have Sheldon be the donor, but Amy forbids it. Meanwhile, Howard turns Raj's cancelled bachelor party into a couples' trip into a zero-gravity aircraft, though he's convinced that Bernadette would hate it. Bernadette tries to get out of it so Howard sits out, forcing Bernadette to go through with it just to prove him wrong, though she does not enjoy it.
In March 2017, CBS renewed the series for two additional seasons, bringing its total to twelve, and running through the 2018–19 television season. On August 22, 2018, CBS and Warner Bros. Television officially announced that the twelfth season would be the series' last. This stems from Jim Parsons' decision to leave the series at the end of the season if the show were to have been renewed for a thirteenth season. The series concluded with an hour-long finale consisting of two back-to-back episodes on May 16, 2019. A retrospective, hosted by Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco, aired at 9:30 P.M. ET/PT, the night of the finale, following the season two finale of Young Sheldon.
When Leonard receives a braggy Christmas letter from his brother, he feels bad about how little he and Penny have achieved in the past year. Leonard wonders if he and Penny should be thinking about the next step after two years of marriage, like buying a house or having a baby. Penny tells him she wants to do all those things someday, but she has a bunch of stuff she would like to do first.