Although the Black people of Medallion now have access to jobs as cashiers and teachers, Nel remains nostalgic about life in the past. She reminisces on how much cuter the boys were when she was growing up and how much better all things were before 1965.
What was known as the Bottom now houses new buildings and people. After the war, people who formerly inhabited the Bottom began to move into the valley if they could afford it. Whites who lived in the valley spread out across the river or further down the river. The Black population that once made up the neighborhood of the Bottom was displaced by new developments including a golf course, a TV station, and a wealthy White population. The land in the hills had increased in property value and those who once lived there could not afford to repurchase land. With the reorganization of land, Nel laments the loss of community and a sense of place that the Bottom once offered.
At 55, Nel’s children have all grown up. After Jude left her, she tried and failed to marry again. She did have one long relationship with a Sergeant during the war, but it ended when he had to relocate. As part of her involvement with the church, Nel volunteers to visit nursing home patients. On one such visit, she goes to see Eva Peace at the Sunnydale nursing home.
Showing signs of age, Eva is unable or perhaps unwilling to acknowledge the distinction between Sula and Nel. During the visit Eva frequently calls Nel by Sula’s name. Annoyed by this, Nel is even more startled when Eva asks about Chicken’s death and insinuates that Nel is partially responsible for it. Nel demands to know whom Eva has spoken to about the incident and Eva claims to have heard the story from her long deceased son, Plum. At this, Nel rises to leave. She is so upset that she leaves the nursing home without speaking to any of the other women she meant to visit.
Preparing to leave the building, Nel remembers the afternoon that Chicken died. She reflects on her composure and absence of feeling after Chicken drowned. Influenced by her conversation with Eva, Nel decides that she did not feel calm that day, but rather that she felt enjoyment watching Chicken fall into the water and drown.
After leaving Sunnydale, Nel walks to the cemetery and visits the graves of the Peace family. She remembers what occurred when Sula’s dead body was discovered, how Betty screamed, and how no one was in any hurry to put Sula’s body to rest. Days passed before Nel called to have Sula buried. At the burial Nel was the only black person who actually entered the cemetery. The rest of the people from the Bottom remained outside, watching, until the white people left. When they came in, they sang “Shall We Gather at the River” over Sula’s grave until interrupted by rainfall.
After leaving the Peace graves, Nel passes Shadrack on the road. Shadrack tries but is unable to remember how he knows Nel. Mid-walk, Nel stops and begins to shout Sula’s name. She realizes that her pain descended not from the loss of her husband but from the lost of her friend. At this, Nel begins to cry aloud.
The cyclical chronology of Sula resumes with the final chapter. 1965 introduces an age of modernity, though it still precedes the time mentioned in the preface. There are not yet any golf courses in what was once known as the Bottom. Things have changed, however, and Nel mourns this loss. The neighborhood is suddenly fragmented, and community is lost. Black people from the bottom have moved to the valley and whites from the valley have either moved across or up river or purchased newly valuable land in the Bottom.
The mood in 1965 is nostalgic for Nel, the narrator of the final chapter. Although things seem to have improved—blacks are employed in higher-level jobs, families can afford to move out of the Bottom—Nel longs for the days of her childhood. According to Nel, the men of 1965 are less beautiful, the youth “different,” and the community divided. All that remains are “separate houses with separate televisions and separate telephones.” Even the whores in 1965 are “pale” and “dull” compared to those who walked the streets in 1921.
Aging and death emerge again as themes in the final chapter when Nel goes to visit Eva in the nursing home. Physically, Eva appears to have lost some of her characteristic strength and pride, which causes Nel to look upon her nostalgically as well. Her foot, which had once always been in fancy shoes, rests instead in a pink slipper, symbolizing Eva’s loss of strength and monetary prosperity.
Yet Eva still contains an internal strength and conviction. She shocks Nel by accusing her of killing Chicken Little. Nel protests, arguing that she merely watched as Sula threw Chicken into the water. She assures Eva that she was the “good one” and Sula the morally inferior. Eva’s assertions suggest a parallel between Sula watching her mother burn because she enjoyed how it made her dance and Nel watching Chicken thrown to his death.
After leaving, Nel considers Eva’s accusations. She realizes that she had enjoyed watching Chicken Little fly and fall into the water. During her reflection, Nel accepts her role in Chicken’s death. She also realizes that she is no better than Sula and regrets having placed her pride over her friendship. Nel’s nostalgia for community is heightened and intensified as it becomes nostalgia for her friend. In the novel’s final image, Nel repeats Sula’s name aloud and cries out into the air. The repetition of her cry marks Nel’s sudden upsurge of emotions as she realizes the true source of her sadness. As she at last realizes that she was pained by the loss of Sula, not Jude, the symbolic grey ball re-emerges and finally unravels.