On the coast of India, Rama and his vanara army try to think of a way that they can cross the distant ocean. This seems like an impossible task until a vanara named Nala builds a bridge across the ocean; Rama assures their safe passage over the water by securing the blessing of the ocean god Varuna.
Back on Lanka, Ravana calls together two councils to advise him on the coming war. The first is composed of his counselors; they assure him that he is invincible and should welcome the coming confrontation with Rama. The sole dissenting voice is that of the king’s brother Vibheeshana, who warns him that he is treading the path of adharma (injustice) that will only lead to ruin; Ravana should give Sita back to Rama and be done with it. In the second council, composed of the king’s subjects, Vibheeshana again raises this objection. Ravana is furious about this insult to his authority and banishes Vibheeshana, who serenely accepts this punishment and flies through the air to join Rama’s army. Some of Rama’s allies are suspicious at first, but after Hanuman endorses Vibheeshana as a good and honest rakshasa, they accept him as one of their own.
Seeing the army at his gate, Ravana tries to break Sita’s will by telling her that Rama is dead and creating a fake severed head that resembles the prince’s. Sita is horrified at first, but quickly sees through this illusion with the help of one of her compassionate rakshasi guards. Ravana stalks off in a fury.
Rama’s army is prepared to fight, but he makes one last attempt to sue for peace. He sends Angada to Ravana’s palace to give the rakshasa king one last opportunity to release Sita. Ravana refuses violently and nearly kills Angada, who manages to escape unharmed. The war begins.
The rakshasas fight with heavy armor, but they are unprepared for the unconventional fighting methods of the vanaras, who use trees, rocks, and their own teeth to fight. There are heavy casualties on both sides, but the vanaras seem to gain ground. But the, Indrajit uses a serpentine weapon to bind Rama and Lakshmana, trapping them in snake’s coils and plunging them into a deep sleep.
The vanara army loses heart. Suddenly Garuda, the god of eagles, appears before them and chases away the evil serpents that bind Rama and Lakshmana, freeing them to fight again.
The princely brothers dispatch many of Ravana’s most seasoned warriors, including several of his sons. In fury and desperation, the rakshasa king himself steps onto the battlefield. Rama destroys Ravana’s chariot and knocks his crown from his head. He has the demon king at his mercy, but rather than killing him, he tells Ravana to go rest so that he is better prepared to fight Rama again
Desperate, Ravana rouses his brother Kumbhakarna, a giant who slumbers for six months at a time and wakes with a voracious appetite. Kumbhakarna warns his brother that he should surrender Sita to Rama, but he agrees to fight out of love for his brother. Kumbhakarna lumbers onto the battlefield and strikes terror into the vanara army by eating the monkeys alive. All of the heroes struggle to defeat him: Hanuman is wounded, Lakshmana’s weapons have no effect against him, and even Rama fears that he will not be able to stop this giant. Only when Rama uses a weapon from the wind god is he able to slay this terrible monster.
Ravana is horrified that his once-invincible brother is dead. He calls on the greatest warrior in his kingdom: his son Indrajit, who once captured the god Indra. Indrajit makes himself invisible to attack Rama’s army, causing many deaths. One of Indrajit’s arrows hits Lakshmana, and Rama fears he is dead. A physician says that he can be healed with herbs from the distant mountain of Oshadhiparvata, and orders Hanuman to fly and gather them. The faithful Hanuman brings the entire mountain, and Lakshmana is healed.
Indrajit resorts to deception. Using magic, he creates an illusion of Sita; he brings her before Rama’s army, taunting them, and then beheads her. Rama wails in grief, but Vibheeshana wisely warns him that he knows his nephew’s tricks, and this is only another illusion.
Indrajit starts to perform a religious ceremony that will make him invincible in battle, but Rama’s forces interrupt before he can finish it. Lakshmana attacks Indrajit and finally kills him.
Ravana has no more great warriors left, and though he knows that he cannot win this war, he heads into battle for a second time. Rama and Ravana face each other at least, and engage in an epic confrontation. At last, Rama summons a weapon from Brahma, the creator of all things, and kills Ravana.
Ravana’s wives come to weep for him. Rama allows Vibheeshana to perform funeral rites for his brother and give him a proper burial. After he has finished this task, Rama crowns Vibheeshana the new king of Lanka.
Hanuman goes to Sita and tells her that she is free now. After adorning herself, she appears before Rama and his people, lovely as ever despite her long captivity. Rama receives her coldly; he tells her that her name is a stain on the family, and no man can take back a woman who has lived for so long in another man’s house. Sita is hurt, shocked, and furious – she has suffered much to maintain her chastity. She demands that Lakshmana kindle a fire, and then she steps into it herself. Miraculously, the flames do not harm her because of her purity, and the god Agni himself emerges to vouch for Sita’s goodness.
Seeing this proof of her loyalty, Rama takes her back, embracing her lovingly. This day also marks the end of his exile in the forest, and he is able to return to Ayodhya. Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana ride Ravana’s sky chariot back to the city.
Wisely, Rama realizes that his brother Bharata may not want to surrender the throne after so long. He sends Hanuman to give his brother the news of his return, with special order to note how his brother reacts. Bharata weeps with joy and kisses Hanuman for bringing him such news; he is happy to yield the throne to his brother. Rama is crowned king in Ayodhya with Sita at his side, and they rule justly for many years.
Ravana has a number of chances to avoid his violent final fate. Many individuals counsel him to give her back to her husband: Hanuman, Vibheeshana, Maricha, Sita herself. He has a number of opportunities to avoid a confrontation with Rama, and to escape his death at the hero's hands, but he stubbornly ignores all of this advice out of his arrogance and lust for Sita. This may emphasize the theme of fate that runs through the Ramayana: even the great and terrible Ravana, dark emperor of the world, cannot avoid his fate.
Rakshasas frequently use forms of deception, which suggests that their martial skills are subpar. They turn themselves invisible in battle, attempt to trick Sita into thinking Rama is dead, and try to convince Rama that Sita is dead. The last two episodes are particularly intriguing. They bookend the battle: Ravana shows Sita the fake severed head of Rama before the battle begins, and Indra beheads the illusory Sita shortly before his own death. Of most interest, in both cases Rama and Sita are almost convinced, and it is actually a rakshasa who informs them that it is an illusion (Vibheeshana in the case of Rama, a rakshasi in the case of Sita). If Rama or Sita had been convinced that the other was dead, it is possible that the Ramayana would have ended in a similar way to Romeo and Juliet.
Rama shows remarkable mercy towards Ravana earlier in the battle. Rather than killing Ravana while he lies helpless on the battlefield, Rama tells him to return for a fairer fight at a later time. This exemplifies Rama’s love of honor and justice, but it serves the double purpose of humiliating the rakshasa king. He literally owes his life to his enemy. Significantly, Ravana is frightened enough to attempt to delay this final confrontation as much as he possibly can, sending his his brother and then his son to the battlefield. It is only when he can find no one to else to fight for him that he finally returns to the battlefield himself.
Despite vivid descriptions of rivers of blood on the battlefield, one of the great heroes of Rama’s army die. Rama, Laksmana, Sugriva, Angada, and Hanuman all make it through the battle more or less unscathed. In contrast, all of the great warriors of Ravana's army are killed - Indrajit and Kumbhakarna, once believed to be invincible, are both dead. Though it seems rather unlikely that every protagonist and ally would survive, this may suggest the belief that dharma and goodness offer protective qualities, while evil will always be punished. Moreover, in some translations of the Ramayana, all of Rama's dead allies are resurrected on the battlefield after his victory over Ravana, so that there are no casualties among those who have remained loyal to Rama.