In May, the Admiral's radio finally dies, and River Road is completely cut off from the outside world at last, and with it goes some of their hope. That month, gasoline also vanishes entirely. In June, however, things begin to look better as their corn, yam, and sugarcane crops began to ripen and they make their first batch of whiskey in their homemade still. They all know it will be useful for trading, and Dan Gunn can use it for various medical purposes as well.
But they still need something to use as anesthesia, so Alice brings home a book about hypnosis from the library and Helen reads it to Dan every night, hoping he can learn something and use it to his advantage. The children served as his subjects. They test his abilities when Ben develops appendicitis and Dan has to operate; after putting Ben into a deep trance, Dan uses common household items to remove the swollen appendix.
August, at the end of the summer, brings about scarcity; they run out of oranges and grapefruits, armadillos destroy the yam crop, the fish stop biting, and they run out of salt. Everyone in Fort Repose has depleted the salt supplies, and everyone is suffering. The absence of fish is inexplicable and terrifying, as it is their main food source.
The salt problem is solved when they go back and read the diary of Randy's ancestor, who founded Fort Repose; in it, he writes about Blue Crab Run, a place downriver with a pool full of blue crabs and a beach made entirely of fine white salt. Five boats of thirteen men head down the river to find this place the very next morning.
It is Peyton who solves the fish issue, jealous of Ben Franklin because he discovered armadillo as a new source of food; she asks Preacher why the fish are not biting, and he says that because of the heat, they must all be staying deep in the middle of the river. She thinks to use goldfish as bait, and goes out in Randy's boat and catches four huge bass. Florence thinks her wild cat came back and ate her fish, and Peyton is initially punished for going out on the river alone. The men return from Blue Crab Run with piles of crabs and huge amounts of salt, and it seems that everything is going to be okay again.
They start school up in September for Peyton and Ben Franklin, and despite his skin color, Caleb Henry joins them as well. The months go by and the residents of Fort Repose push on. Dan delivers his first post-Day baby, which is heartening, as it means the human race will continue. One day, music rings out throughout the Bragg house; it is Peyton, who discovered a record player in the attic. For the first time, they have music again.
In November, Dan confesses that he has grown extremely fond of Helen; however, he claims she will never marry him as long as there is some slim chance that Mark could still be alive. One day a low-lying plane drops a leaflet; it informs them that the Air Force has begun flying over contaminated zones. A few weeks later, a helicopter comes, and men in protective suits come to take radiation readings of the area.
At last, one pronounces the area clear and takes off his helmet. Randy realizes that it's Paul Hart, who has joined Decontamination Command and chosen his home, Florida, as the Contaminated Zone that he would survey. He confirms that Denver is the capital of the U.S. now, as Washington, D.C. no longer exists.
Randy tells his story. After the attack, the Air Force went over to Kenya, Africa, and he came back to join the D.C. in the hopes of finding his wife and kids. He gave up hope when he saw how completely Orlando, where they lived, had been annihilated. He breaks the news to Helen; Mark is most certainly dead. Hart and his team take notes as Randy tells them how Fort Repose has managed to survive.
Paul offers to airlift them out, because it will take a long time to restore the Contaminated Zones, but they all agree that they want to stay because Fort Repose is their town, and these are their people. Randy asks Paul one final question: who won the war? Paul confirms that even though the U.S. is in shambles, their side did win the war; however, it is doubtful that the nation will ever return to the way it once was.
The final chapters span many months' time, as surviving in Fort Repose becomes more and more of a routine. As they run out of food and the fish stop biting, things do take a turn for the worst, but this serves as a final test for the main characters. After months and months of trying, the people of River Road could easily give up; however, they continue to fight and work together to create resourceful ways to solve problems.
One good piece of evidence confirming this is Dan's learning hypnosis and operating on Ben with common household supplies like steak knives and hairpins. Dan's success with these methods confirms that although modern society relies so heavily on technology, in many instances it simply is not necessary. Dan has learned to improvise and make do without the technology he has so depended on in the past, and author Pat Frank clearly advises the rest of society to learn how to do so as well.
In Chapter 12, the true colors of Peyton Bragg are finally revealed. Before this point, readers have gotten to know her brother Ben Franklin's character fairly well; Ben has stepped into the shoes of his absent father and taken on many of the duties of a grown man, culminating in his discovery of armadillo as a source of food.
Peyton, though, has not been much of an asset until this chapter, in which she finds a way to make the fish bite and discovers some wonderful treasures in the attic. Peyton is just as clever and resourceful as everyone else, with a stubborn streak that means she will not stop until she solves the problem at hand. Peyton has grown immensely over the course of the novel, just like the adult characters.
As Lib and Randy's relationship is in full bloom, another fledgling relationship begins to blossom between Helen and Dan, but Helen cannot act on her feelings because she is too tightly bound to the past and the hope that Mark might still be alive. Paul's confirmation that he has died serves as a form of closure for her; she has spent months and months wondering and waiting, but now she can at last give herself permission to love again and keep moving forward into the future, as everyone in Fort Repose must continually do.
Randy has truly established himself as Fort Repose's leader in the final chapters of this book, saving the town with his discovery of the hidden pool at Blue Crab Run. This discovery also links him to the past; his Bragg ancestor founded Fort Repose, building up a civilization against all odds, and Randy is now continuing his work to try and save it. The people of Fort Repose—not merely those on River Road, but all of them—have clearly come to respect Randy enough to follow his lead, and he has transformed into the type of brave, resourceful, kind, and heroic leader they need.
Many other themes also resolve at the culmination of the novel. When Caleb, a black boy, joins school with Peyton and Ben Franklin, Randy realizes that racism and segregation has no place in a suffering society; everyone, regardless of skin color, must work together to achieve prosperity again. The Day has shook the world as they know it up and given them new roots to begin anew, starting with patching up decades of rocky race relations.
Fort Repose's complete cleanliness in an area contaminated by radiation is symbolic of the way the little town has managed to thrive in the face of tragedy, a diamond in the rough. The River Road citizens' decision to remain in their town rather than leave it confirms that they have all changed immensely over the course of the story, and recognized the value in the bonds they have forged and the skills they have learned by working together to survive.
The final line of the novel is "The engine started and Randy turned away to face the thousand-year night." Although Fort Repose has been a shining light, darkness and uncertainty still surrounds them. Yes, the U.S. has won the war, but at a great cost. Frank makes it known that the effects of war are lasting and cannot be erased overnight, even by victory. The important thing, though, is that Randy and the rest of Fort Repose have hope for a brighter future, and they will keep moving forward.