Ponyboy gets back to his house at almost six-thirty, late for supper. He can hardly eat because he doesn't feel well, and he sneaks some aspirins when his brothers aren't looking. Then he takes a shower to get "spruced up" before the rumble, like he and Soda always do. He, Soda, and Steve use more hair grease than they need to, to maintain their image of toughness.
While they wait for Two-Bit to show up, Ponyboy asks the others if they like fighting and why. Soda says he does, because "It's action. It's a contest. Like a drag race or a dance or something." Steve's answer is because "I want to beat those Socs' heads in. When I get in a fight I want to stomp the other guy good. I like it, too." Darry doesn't answer, just gives Ponyboy "one of those looks that hide what he's thinking." But Soda chimes in that Darry likes to show off his muscles, and Ponyboy thinks that's true. Since everyone else likes fighting, Ponyboy feels out of place.
Darry tells him he thinks it's not a good idea for him to go to the fight, since he's "tensed up too much." But Soda says to let Ponyboy come, since there are no weapons. None of the other smaller guys will be there; not Johnny or Dally or Curly Shepard, Tim Shepard's little brother, because he's in the reformatory. Finally Darry gives in and says he'll let Ponyboy fight.
The boys start getting pumped up for the rumble, doing acrobatics and shouting as they leave the house. They do a role play in which Darry and Two-Bit pretend to be snobby Socs, saying "Get thee hence, white trash," while Soda embraces the Greaser stereotypes, chanting, "I blacken the name of our fair city." Ponyboy asks Two-Bit why he likes to fight, and he responds, "Shoot, everybody fights." Ponyboy realizes that each member of the gang fights for a different reason: Soda for fun, Steve for hatred, Darry for pride, and Two-Bit for conformity... but Ponyboy doesn't know why he himself fights. Darry reminds Ponyboy and Soda to run away if the police show up, so they don't get put in a boys' home.
When the gang gets to the vacant lot, Tim Shepard and his gang are already there. Ponyboy notes that the difference between their gang and the Shepard gang is that Tim Shepard uses "strict discipline;" there is a clear leader and they are organized, while Ponyboy's gang is "just buddies who stuck together." There's also another Greaser gang from Brumly, a suburb. They all shake hands to prove that their on the same side in the rumble. When Tim Shepard reaches Ponyboy, he asks about how he and Johnny killed the Soc; Ponyboy pretends to be proud of it. He also notices he's the youngest one there, since Curly Shepard is in the reformatory for breaking into a liquor store.
One of the guys from the Brumly gang asks Ponyboy about Darry, saying he looks like a good rumbler. Ponyboy looks around at the other members of his gang and realizes that since they're not using weapons, Darry really is the best equipped for the fight. But when Tim Shepard calls Darry over, Ponyboy thinks "He shouldn't be here." None of their gang should be there, because "We're greasers, but not hoods, and we don't belong with this bunch of future convicts."
The Socs start arriving at the vacant lot; there are twenty-two Socs and twenty Greasers. Ponyboy notices how the Socs don't look like they're going to a rumble at all, and decides that since "people usually go by looks," it makes sense that the Greasers always get in trouble. One of the Socs clarifies the rules, that "the first to run lose," and that they won't use weapons.
Then Darry steps foward to start the rumble off, saying that he'll take on any of the Socs. Paul Holden steps forward from the Soc side; he is one of Darry's ex-friends from high school, and now he looks at Darry with a mixture of contempt, pity, and hate. Ponyboy realizes that Darry is not only jealous of Paul and the opportunities he has that Darry doesn't, but he is ashamed to be representing the Greasers. The two young men start to circle each other in the silence, and Ponyboy thinks about how they shouldn't hate each other.
Then Dally runs to join them, yelling "Hold up!" When Darry looks up to see who yelled, Paul punches him in the jaw and the rumble begins. As Ponyboy fights alongside Dally, Dally explains that he escaped the hospital by threatening a nurse with Two-Bit's switchblade. Darry is protecting Ponyboy, and Ponyboy decides to help Dally since one of his arms is unusable. But one of the Socs kicks Ponyboy in the head so hard he feels like he's about to black out.
Soon, the Socs run away, and Darry announces that the Greasers have won the rumble. Immediately, Dally grabs Ponyboy and says they're going to see Johnny, since he's getting worse and wants to see Ponyboy. Dally is speeding on the way to the hospital and gets pulled over, but since Ponyboy looks sick, he lies and says that they are going there to get Ponyboy treated. The cop offers to escort them the rest of the way to the hospital.
Dally begins "raving on and on" about how he wishes Johnny had been tougher, like himself, so he wouldn't have gotten into this mess. Ponyboy doesn't understand the rest, because he's too sick. When they run inside the hospital and reach Johnny's room, the doctor says, "I'm sorry boys, but he's dying." But Dally insists that they have to see him, threatening the doctor with a knife.
Johnny looks terrible, and Ponyboy worries that he's already dead. Dally tells Johnny how they won the rumble, but Johnny mumbles "Useless... fighting's no good..." Dally tells him that he is proud of him, and "Johnny's eyes glowed," because Dally is his hero. Then he asks for Ponyboy, and whispers, "Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold..." before dying. Ponyboy notes that he doesn't look peaceful, he just looks dead.
Dally pushes Johnny's hair back, and says, "That's what you get for tryin' to help people, you little punk, that's what you get..." Then he slams himself into the wall, punching it and saying, "Damnit, Johnny, please don't die." Then he runs out of the room and down the hall.
Soda launches the role playing game with the proclamation: "I am a greaser. I am a JD and a hood. I blacken the name of our fair city. I beat up people. I rob gas stations. I am a menace to society. Man, do I have fun!" It's a blast of verbal swagger, machismo through words, and it allows the boys to get excited about their rumble. At the same time, however, it suggests just how conscious they are of their appearance in the eyes of the rest of society. They embrace the stereotypes that cast them, as though by adopting them they might rise above them. In this sense they suggest nothing so much as kids playing at being gangsters or gunslingers; it's all theater, all role-playing - until someone gets hurt, that is.
When the Socs arrive at the rumble, Ponyboy reflects on the falsity of appearances. He realizes that the reason the Socs never get blamed for causing trouble is because "We look hoody and they look decent." Although most of the Greasers are "pretty decent guys underneath all that grease," and the Socs are "just cold-blooded mean," it doesn't matter because "people usually go by looks."
The confrontation between Darry and Paul Holden serves to demonstrate the divide between the Greasers and the Socs - a divide that runs deeper than appearances. Ponyboy sees that "something flickered behind Darry's eyes and then they were ice again," when Paul says, "Hello, Darrel." Ponyboy knows that while Paul looks at Darry with a mixture of contempt, pity, and hate, Darry is jealous of Paul and ashamed to represent the Greasers. Although they both played football together in high school, Paul is in college and Darry is working, unable to afford school; the vicissitudes of life have separated them.
Before he dies, Johnny whispers to Ponyboy, "Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold..." He is referencing the poem by Robert Frost that Ponyboy recited aloud when they were sitting on the back porch of the church, watching the sunrise. By dying, Johnny is fulfilling the prophecy of the poem that "Nothing gold can stay." But he hopes for Ponyboy to fulfill his own potential and not wind up like him.
Dally's reaction to Johnny's death is a great show of emotion for someone who Ponyboy thinks is always cool. Clearly, Dally loves Johnny, and cannot handle the pain that accompanies his death. However, he left Johnny in the hospital to attend the rumble, even though he knew Johnny was dying. Although he loves Johnny, he cannot separate himself from the violence that is part of his personality, and he expresses his frustration by fighting Socs. It's a lose-lose, and it is here that Hinton's narrative suggests the fatalism of tragedy.