NEW YORK — Bear Stearns Cos. shareholders on Thursday approved JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s $2.2 billion buyout of the investment bank whose big wagers on subprime mortgages led to its near-collapse.

The widely anticipated "yes" vote at Bear Stearns' midtown Manhattan headquarters means the company will officially become part of JPMorgan Chase by Friday. JPMorgan Chase confirmed that Bear Stearns' shareholders approved the deal, and said it would release the vote tally later.

The bank is buying Bear Stearns for about $10 a share. Back in January 2007, before mortgage defaults began clobbering banks and draining demand from the debt markets, Bear Stearns had traded at $171 a share.

Bear Stearns' troubles can be traced back to last June, when two of its hedge funds collapsed. Those fund casualties not only foreshadowed the investment bank's own demise, but also effectively launched the recent credit crisis by showing how much damage the slumping mortgage market could incur on the companies that bought, repackaged and sold the loans.

The deal's approval comes as no surprise — since offering to take over the firm two-and-a-half months ago at the behest of the U.S. government, JPMorgan Chase & Co. has purchased nearly half of Bear Stearns Cos. stock, virtually guaranteeing shareholder approval. JPMorgan also upped its initial offer of $2-a-share to $10-a-share after outcry from Bear Stearns shareholders, many of whom are employees that JPMorgan intends to keep on staff.

But just as the world's financial system has far to go in recovering from bad bets on debt, so does JPMorgan in its integration of Bear Stearns. The process will not only involve taking on Bear Stearns' distressed securities, but also effectively managing the approximately 7,000 Bear Stearns employees coming aboard and retaining the clients of what was the nation's fifth-largest investment bank.

"Doing the deal is the easiest part," said John Koob, who works in mergers, acquisitions and restructuring at Towers Perrin. "When the champagne cork pops, the real work now begins."