In late August Toru hears from Reiko that Naoko has committed suicide, and stricken by grief he spends a month traveling without money and sleeping wherever he can. However, he eventually decides that it is time to return to Tokyo and to life. Reiko leaves the sanatorium to join him, and the two talk about Naoko. Reiko tells him that for one night Naoko returned to the sanatorium from the hospital where she had been committed and that she had seemed much healthier; Naoko became unusually talkative that night and told her about the night she slept with Toru. The next morning Reiko discovered that Naoko was gone, and after a search they found that she had hanged herself. To honor her memory, she and Toru hold a little funeral for her, in which Reiko plays every song she knows—fifty in total. That night Reiko and Toru have sex. The next day Reiko leaves for Asahikawa, a town in Hokkaido, to start a new life. Toru calls Midori telling her that he needs to talk and start things over with her; she asks him where he is, and he finds that he is stuck a place that is nowhere.
The abrupt announcement of Naoko's death that opens the final chapter, already in the past tense, may cause some readers to fall out of their chairs in surprise and others to groan at the substantiation of their fears. Regardless, the wordless reaction that we have as readers is not unlike Toru's reaction: "I never answered her [Reiko]. What could I have said? What good would it have done? Naoko no longer existed in this world; she had become a fistful of ash" (271). The sheer shock of Naoko's death—by the time that the Toru is speaking of, he has already attended her funeral—is something so sudden and intense as to be nearly incomprehensible to him. It was not even that her body slowly decayed like that of Midori's father or in the image of buds bursting through her skin that he imagined in the spring, but rather life cam to an abrupt halt by her suicide.
While Toru goes on his grief trip and thinks almost entirely of Naoko, Midori's presence is just as important in the chapter. He notes that before he leaves Tokyo: "To Midori I wrote a short note: I couldn't say anything just yet, but I hoped she would wait for me a little longer" (271). As before, waiting is the supreme expression of love; and as Toru explains to Reiko later on when she comes to Tokyo, he blames himself for Naoko's death in a way due to his failure to wait for her, as manifested in his choosing the much more alive Midori over her.
The way that Toru's travels work out brings together many of the important themes of the story. For one, we encounter the opposition between traveling and working in Toru's need to occasionally stop in towns to work in order to get the money to continue traveling. Also, his practice of traveling by the coastline once he has reached the western coast of Japan becomes intertwined with his experience of memories:
"Nights when it was impossible for me to sleep, the images of Naoko would come back to me. There was no way I could stop them. Too many memories of her were crammed inside me… The memories would slam against me like waves of an incoming tide, sweeping my body along to some strange new place—a place where I lived with the dead" (272-3).
As Toru mentions in the first chapter, it may have seemed to him that at this time when his memories came to him so easily—in fact too easily, against his will—that he could write about Naoko, but in the end such clarity prevents proper processing of experience and pain:
"The image of her was still too vivid in my memory…I could bring this all back as clearly as if it had happened five minutes earlier, and I felt sure that Naoko was still beside me, that I could just reach out and touch her. But no, she was not there; her flesh no longer existed in this world" (272). These memories come to him as pure shock and trauma, having no psychological effect on him other than pain. However, gradually amidst this endless pounding of the waves of memory, Toru regains his reflective abilities and his determination to keep moving forwards in life, to keep living:
"By living our lives, we nurture death. True as this might be, it was only one of the truths we had to learn. What I learned from Naoko's death was this: no truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning. Hearing the waves at night, listening to the sound of the wind, day after day I focused on these thoughts of mine" (273-4).
In this condition, he encounters the young fisherman who offers him food and tells him about his dead mother. Toru is at first stirred up into a selfish rage by this mention of someone else's trauma while he is so wrapped up in his own, but then he begins to open up, and this maturation reaches its height when the fisherman offers Toru money, saying: "It's not money…it's just my feelings. Don't think about it too much, just take it" (275). This statement could actually be generalized for much of the novel as a statement about love itself: one simply offers up one's own feelings to another, as though saying something. That Toru throws up shows that his body is beginning to purge itself and recover: "I knew I had to go back to the real world" (275). Using the impetus of the fisherman's feelings and the resource of his money, Toru buys his ticket back to Tokyo, and back to life.
There he falls into another bout of depression, but so long as he is rooted in one place he can be reached; and indeed he receives a letter from Reiko saying that she is coming to Tokyo. As Midori had broken Toru out of his shell, so does Reiko.
In fact, Reiko is just the person Toru needs to help process his grief: "walking by her side I felt strangely calmed and comforted. This was a familiar feeling, I thought, and then it occurred to me it was the way I used to feel when walking the streets of Tokyo with Naoko. And just as Naoko and I had shared the dead Kizuki, Reiko and I shared the dead Naoko" (279). Just as Toru's walking with Naoko helped to calm him down but did not solve the underlying problems, so his relationship with Reiko requires more work.
To Toru's surprise, Reiko mentions that the short-sleeve shirt she is wearing actually was Naoko's and that Naoko had written no will except for a note bestowing all her clothes to Reiko: "She was a funny one, don't you think? Why would she be concerned about her clothes of all things when she's getting ready to die? Who gives a damn about clothes? She must have had tons of other things she wanted to say" (281). But as Toru notes, what is significant is the similarity between Naoko and Reiko's bodies, which almost seems to be what Naoko was suggesting by the clothes.
If we read it that way, it is no surprise that Reiko and Toru, just as naturally as Toru and Midori kissing on the balcony, decide to sleep together as a continuation and consummation of the "little funeral" they hold for Naoko. We might also remember something that Naoko said to Reiko, perhaps only joking before the last night of Toru's first visit to Ami Hostel: "Oh, I'd let you have him once in a while" (162). Sitting in their house while all was raining outside, Naoko feels very satisfied and comfortable with their group of three, and it is precisely by sleeping with Toru that this triangle is brought back to life. We might also note that Reiko finally has an appetite when she makes a sukiyaki dinner earlier that night, something that suggests a fundamental change in her physical and emotional state.