In the final section of the novel, Augie goes to New York, where he befriends a mature Armenian divorce lawyer named Mintouchian, the lover of Stella's good friend Agnes Kuttner. Mintouchian - successful, wealthy, and highly educated - offers Augie his thoughts on love and adultery while sitting with him in a Turkish bath. Augie recognizes that Mintouchian is "another of those persons who persistently arise before me with life counsels and illumination throughout my entire earthy pilgrimage." As a lawyer, Mintouchian is suspicious of everyone's motives, and makes it a point to collect secrets. He also asserts that while love might be adultery, adultery might also be love, as it is in his case. He loves Agnes Kuttner madly, although Augie can't understand why. Mintouchian confides in him that Agnes, too, has her secrets. Back in Mintouchian's home, Augie meets his wife, who whispers to him that she knows all about her husband's affair, but tolerates his behavior and accepts his failings: "He is great, even if he's all too human."
Augie graduates from Sheepshead, and he and Stella marry. Mintouchian and Agnes attend the wedding, along with Robey, Sylvester, and Frazer, all of whom happen to be in New York at the time. Augie notices that Frazer, a lank figure of American elegance who engaged in intelligence services during the war, adds "tone" to the wedding. He carries himself, in Augie's view, like a person meant to become important.
After two nights on a honeymoon, Augie ships off to war, where he begins listening to the secrets and personal histories of the other men aboard the ship. On the fifteenth day at sea a torpedo sinks the ship, and all of the men (save for Augie and another Chicagoan named Basteshaw) drown. Augie and Basteshaw, the ship's carpenter, sit in a lifeboat, watching as the sea falls silent around them. Augie listens to Basteshaw talk disparagingly about his family, and particularly about his father. Augie disapproves of the man, and likes him less and less as he reveals his mad-genius tendencies. Basteshaw claims to have discovered the key to creating life, and declares that his theory is based on his studies of extreme boredom, a modern phenomenon that expresses his conviction that one cannot change. He adds that he is not a god, but desires to continue his work. He then tells Augie that he saw their position on the map clearly just as the ship went down; they should hit the Canary Islands soon if they go in the right direction. He also says that he would prefer to land quietly so that he will be able to continue his experiments; he doesn't want to enter into the service again. He asks Augie if he will join him, but Augie worries about whether he can trust this man's inner compass - or even his sanity. When Augie attempts to signal a passing ship, Basteshaw angrily ties him up, but during the night Augie frees himself. He considers throwing Basteshaw overboard, but notices that the man is running a high fever. He decides to let him alone, and even nurses him to health. In the end, a British tanker passes by and rescues the survivors, dropping them off in Naples - nowhere near the Canary Islands. After six more months, Augie finally returns to New York. On a night in September, he at last runs into Stella's arms.
As the novel draws to a close, Augie explains that he has abandoned his dream of starting a foster-academy, but that the dream was more about love than it was about education. He seeks love in Stella's arms, but soon finds that she has a preoccupation of her own: becoming a film star. They move to Europe, where Stella begins working for an international film company while Augie manages Mintouchian's black-market dealings abroad. In Paris, Augie runs across Frazer, who is now working for the World Educational Fund. As time passes, Augie also learns that Stella lies a great deal. Mintouchian reveals to him that she has been trying to sue a former lover of hers for his money. Augie begs Stella to stop, and she cries and promises him that she will. One day, Simon and Charlotte visit Paris, and Augie asks Simon if he knows what happened to Renee. Charlotte overhears Augie, and is angered by his inquiry. Simon admits that there never was any child. Renee, he tells Augie, simply disappeared, and is most likely married by now. Augie is heartbroken when he realizes just how badly Simon wants a child.
Augie takes a train to Bruges for business with Jacqueline, the maid, who is on her way to her uncle's farm in Normandy. When they arrive in Normandy, Augie decides to accompany Jacqueline to her destination. The weather is cold, and the walk is difficult. Jacqueline insists that they sing in order to keep their stomachs from freezing, and although it is a somewhat ridiculous suggestion, Augie begins singing a Mexican song. Jacqueline tells him that it is her dream to go to Mexico, and this revelation makes Augie laugh: "a Jacqueline, for instance, as hard used as that by rough forces, will still refuse to lead a disappointed life?" Augie considers his attempt to write down his life, and declares: "Why, I am a sort of Columbus...I may well be a flop at this line of endeavor. Columbus too thought he was a flop, probably, when they sent him back in chains. Which didn't prove there was no America." The novel ends on a note of laughter.
Augie encounters two more Machiavellian characters in the final chapters of the book: Mintouchian, whom he befriends, and Basteshaw, whom he despises. Mintouchian, like Simon, attempts to strike a balance between his respect for his wife and his love for his mistress. Though the situation does not appear as unstable as Simon's (given that Mintouchian's wife condones his behavior), Mintouchian also strikes the reader as a different sort of Machiavellian - and a far more successful one. While Thea was unfailingly honest, Mintouchian obsesses about gathering the truth so that it may one day be used to his advantage. Additionally, unlike the other Machiavellians who attempt to control Augie and shape him into their own likeness, sparking the "opposition" that is natural in him, Mintouchian states: "You must take your chance on what you are. And you can't sit still. I know this double poser, that if you make a move you may lose but if you sit still you will decay. But what will you lose? You will not invent better than God or nature or turn yourself into the man who lacks no gift or development before you make the move. This is not given to us." In other words, he finally explains the basic drive behind the Machiavellian urge to succeed in terms that Augie can understand. Augie realizes that he has the same drive in him - the need to take a chance. Augie's problem is that he cannot figure out who, exactly, he wants to be.
Additionally, Mintouchian states that "It is better to die what you are than to live a stranger forever." By this time, Augie already understands that individuals try to ensure that their fates are shared; herein lies the basic building block of communities, families, and romantic relationships. The narrative emphasizes encounters with various individuals, drawing attention to the importance of relationships and highlighting the fact that Augie fails to commit to any of them. Clem Tambow suggests that they go into business together, and Thea encourages Augie to build a relationship with her; both of these individuals push Augie to seek out a more prosperous future in the company of others. Ultimately, Bellow seems to believe that little can be accomplished alone. Bellow rejects the vision set forth by the narrator of Albert Camus' The Stranger: the narrator in Camus' work sets himself apart from society and refuses to conform to its expectations. Bellow's novel, however, rejects this image of the romantically alienated "stranger", asserting that fate lies in the flow of experience, and that character development rests upon one's willingness to be held accountable to others.
In an interesting moment, Mintouchian's wife states to Augie that her husband is "all too human", thereby emphasizing Mintouchian's humanity (both in a positive and a negative sense). Later, Basteshaw claims he is "not a god"; this statement conveys the same information as "all too human:, but in a manner that appears false: Basteshaw actually feels that he is a kind of god. When the ship disappears into the sea, Augie and Basteshaw are the only survivors. Augie, having become the repository of the secrets - or truths - of the men on board the ship, represents the kaleidoscope of ordinary, mortal lives: he wishes only to see his wife, and clings sincerely to the hope of a future filled with love. Basteshaw, on the other hand, obsesses over his ambitions: the megalomaniac imagines that he will be able to alter the very direction of humanity. He represents "force", while Augie argues with him that poets can never be forced to appear - they rise up from the natural wellsprings of the time. The two visions cause the men to come to blows: Basteshaw binds Augie down, but Augie ultimately turns the tables on his ill companion.
The narrative draws to a close by revealing that Simon and Charlotte are childless, and that Charlotte is unable to conceive. This fact recalls Simon and Augie's own accidental births, Mimi Villars' accidental pregnancy, and the general warning expressed in the narrative that men should be careful not to be trapped by a woman who becomes pregnant. Simon and Charlotte, in the end, echo the Renlings; later in life, they too may seek someone who is "adoptable".
Although Augie recognizes the undercurrent of disappointment in Simon's life, he suppresses his own, only showing enough for the reader to suspect that his marriage to Stella is breaking down. He feels love for her, but wants it to be the "victory of love over preoccupations." Stella's desire to become a film star dominates the marriage; there is little room for compromise. She brushes off Augie's dream of starting a family, and in the end Augie realizes that the woman is indeed what Thea believed her to be: a liar. Stella's attempt to sue a past lover links her to Simon's mistress, Renee, as well as to the disturbing Agnes Kuttner. Additionally, the text hints at the very real possibility that Stella has a lover in Paris.
An additional source of disappointment for Augie lies in his inability to settle on a real profession. When he runs into Frazer in Paris, he finds that Frazer is working for the World Educational Fund. The moment prompts the reader to consider the trajectories of the two characters. While both jumped from one job to another, dabbling in various professions, Frazer appears to have been much smarter about his moves. Both men end up in Paris, but in vastly different positions. Augie merely stays afloat, with one foot planted firmly in the underworld, while Frazer seems poised to launch a career on the international stage.
Augie's management of Mintouchian's foreign black-market interests shows that he has ultimately come to be dominated by one of the Machiavellians that have haunted him throughout his life. Mintouchian has an understanding of how to speak to Augie, and knows how to convince him to share in his fate. Mintouchian shares with Augie his own secrets as well as Stella's, and, in this way, binds them together.
The novel, interestingly, closes with Augie's laughter, and a description of his journey with Jacqueline. Echoing the figure of Molly Simms, Jacqueline lives a decidedly difficult life. Whether Augie will mimic Simon's action is left up in the air - it is unclear why Augie gets off the train with her and does not continue on to Bruges. However, Augie explains his decision to disembark with the maid by saying that he sees hope in her. Given the many disappointments that Jacqueline has faced, her "refusal" to live a "disappointed" life is almost dishonest, but her dishonesty has merit: it motivates her to push her life in a new direction. Bellow, it seems, believes that things can change. Augie looks back on his own existence, come to life on the page, and sees that the diversity of his encounters has rendered his life a kind of discovery, not unlike Columbus' discovery of America. America is what one makes of it: it is a land of possibilities, in which each man struggles to realize his own, unique fate. Though it is left to the reader to judge whether Augie has been a success, it is undeniable that he has truly been an American.