Updated from 10:17 a.m. EST

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

said its shareholders approved the securities firm's acquisition by

Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Report

, marking the latest step toward clearing the way for the company to become a unit of the Charlotte-based financial giant.

The deal was originally reached in September, and it will see Bank of America exchange 0.8595 of a share for each share of Merrill. The companies expect to close the transaction by the end of the year, pending regulatory approvals and the satisfaction of other customary closing conditions.

"By approving this transaction, Merrill Lynch stockholders expressed confidence that the combination of our firm and Bank of America will create one of the most powerful financial institutions in the world, with unmatched capabilities and service," said, John Thain, chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch, in a press release Friday. "This combination will create great value for our stockholders and clients around the world."

Hours later, BofA's holders voted in support of the purchase.

The arrangement was hastily reached during a time of great uncertainty for U.S. and global financial institutions. While the economic crisis that has transformed the financial system is ongoing, the late summer and early fall of 2008 were among the most stressful times for investors and traders on Wall Street.

Over the course of just a few weeks,

Lehman Brothers

filed for bankruptcy, the federal government bailed out

AIG

(AIG) - Get Report

,

Fannie Mae

(FNM)

and

Freddie Mac

(FRE)

,

Wells Fargo

(WFC) - Get Report

agreed to acquire

Wachovia

(WB) - Get Report

,

JPMorgan Chase

(JPM) - Get Report

bought

Washington Mutual

, and former investment banks

Morgan Stanley

(MS) - Get Report

and

Goldman Sachs

(GS) - Get Report

restructured into bank holding companies.

Another component of the massive shakeup was the BofA merger with Merrill. Assuming the deal is actually completed, one of the best-known securities houses in the world will cease to be independent.

Merrill Lynch has offices in 40 countries and territories and had total client assets of roughly $1.5 trillion as of Sept. 26. Merrill also owns around half of

BlackRock

(BLK) - Get Report

, one of the world's largest publicly traded investment-management companies with more than $1.3 trillion in assets under management at the end of September.

For now, Merrill continues to trade. Recently, its stock was up 52 cents at $12.43. BofA was adding 26 cents at $14.60.

This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.com.