Laila senses Rasheed strangling her, and she thinks she will die. Suddenly, she realizes that she can finally breathe, and Mariam checks to make sure she is alright. Laila realizes what Mariam has done to Rasheed and that he is, in fact, dead. Mariam and Laila do not want Zalmai to see Rasheed, so they drag Rasheed into the backyard behind a work bench. Mariam tries to heal Laila's wounds.
Mariam tries to come up with a plan, and Laila says that they must leave. Laila tells Zalmai that Rasheed has gone away. Zalmai asks questions, and Laila tries to assure Zalmai that it is not his fault. Mariam tells Laila to leave with Tariq and the children in the morning.
Laila insists that Mariam come along, but she refuses. Mariam says that eventually the Taliban will come after all of them if they find Rasheed dead and the women missing. Mariam says it is unfair for the children to have to live on the run, and that she cannot look at Zalmai every day knowing that she has killed his father. Laila tries to make excuses, but she knows that Mariam is right. Laila weeps. Laila and Zalmai leave the house, never to see Mariam again.
Mariam is put into a women's prison guarded by the Taliban. She shares a cell with five other women and four children. She refuses visitors. Mariam is one of very few women that has committed a violent crime, and she becomes famous within the prison walls for her offense. Women offer her blankets and food. One particular woman, Naghma, takes a special liking to Mariam and tells her how she had been sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to run away and elope. Naghma announces that she is suicidal. Mariam remembers Nana's advice that a man always finds a woman to blame.
Mariam's trial is short. She waives the right to witnesses. She pleads guilty, but she explains that Rasheed will have killed her if she had not struck him first. The Talib overseeing her trial does not believe her, and Mariam is sentenced to death. The Talib justifies his decision because he "must follow the law of Allah". Mariam signs the document which explains her sentence, and she recalls her wedding.
The night before she is to be executed, she dreams of young Jalil, Mullah Faizullah, and Nana in the kolba. On the way to the stadium on the day of her execution, a Talib assures Mariam that it is normal to be scared, and Mariam cries. She is nervous about her behavior at the execution. She does not want to make a scene. Yet, she thinks of what she has done to Zalmai, and she is able to remain composed walking into the stadium. Mariam thinks about how she'd miss Laila, and would like to see Aziza grow up and have children. Mariam reflects on her life and thinks that this is a "legitimate end to a life with illegitimate beginnings". She recites lines from the Koran asking for mercy, kneels, and is killed.
Laila and Tariq are married in Murree, the Pakistani town where he had lived prior to coming to visit Laila. Their wedding is simple, but Laila realizes that she is blessed to have him. Laila enjoys her life in Murree, and she feels very grateful for all that she has. She helps Tariq clean the hotel, and Aziza and Zalmai come along.
Laila tells Aziza that Tariq is her real father, and the two of them bonded rather quickly. Aziza is concerned that Tariq might leave them, but Laila assures her that he never will do so. Zalmai takes more time getting used to Tariq, crying that he is not his own father. Laila continues to lie to Zalmai, telling him that she does not know when Rasheed is coming home. She realizes that one day, the pain Zalmai feels will dissipate.
Laila dreams of Kabul and Mariam. Tariq reveals that Ahmad Shah Massoud has been killed by who he thinks are Al-Qaeda men. Laila recalls the respect that her mother had for Massoud and her claims that he wanted peace and to rebuild Afhanistan. Laila is unmoved by the news.
Two days later, Tariq and Laila rush to the lobby of the hotel after hearing a commotion. They watch the events of 9/11 unfold, and they hear the discussion that follows about Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden. Tariq tells Laila that Afghanistan will not turn over Osama bin Laden, because they are claiming to adhere to a Pashtun custom of hospitality, but Tariq knows that the Taliban are distorting the custom. Laila and Tariq learn that President Bush declares the war on terror, naming Afghanistan as an enemy.
Though Laila and Tariq have to be careful about making love in the same room as the children, Laila feels that the precautions are worth the experience. After making love, Tariq and Laila discuss the situation in Kabul, with American bombs falling on the city. Tariq claims it is not so bad, but Laila responds that innocent people are dying. She snaps that he does not know war, because he had left Kabul. She later regrets this comment. Tariq indicates that he is hopeful that peace will come to Afghanistan.
That night, Zalmai is awakened by his cough, and Tariq comforts him. Tariq is moved to tears. Tariq and Laila discuss the changes back home: The Taliban has been chased out by coalition forces, and an interim president, Hamid Karzai, has been appointed. Laila realizes that she misses Kabul. She hears about life returning to normal, and feels that her life in Pakistan is inconsequential. She is reminded of Hakim's words that Afghanistan will need her and her mother's words about seeing peace in Afghanistan to honor Ahmad and Noor.
Laila tells Tariq that she wants to return to Kabul, and Tariq agrees. Laila wants to stop in Herat before going to Kabul. Both of the children needed to be reassured about the move, as they had attachments in Murree and bad memories of Kabul. As they leave, Laila wonders if they are making the right decision. The trip to Herat is long, and they have to travel through Iran due to destroyed roads in Afghanistan. Laila is surprised by the stable condition of Herat. She heard that Ismail Khan, the warlord of Herat, had helped to rebuild the city.
Laila travels alone in Herat to visit Mullah Faizullah's house. Laila meets with his son, Hamza. She tells Hamza that she is visiting about Mariam, and Laila reveals that Mariam has passed away. Laila tells Hamza Mariam's story, and he reflects upon Mullah Faizullah's relationship with Mariam. Hamza tells Laila that Mullah Faizullah has died, but he lived to be a very old man. Hamza takes Mariam to the clearing which houses the kolba, but Laila visits the building by herself. It is run down, but Laila imagines Mariam as a child.
Hamza gives Laila a box that Jalil had given Mullah Faizullah to give to Mariam. The contents of the box include a tape of Walt Disney's Pinnocchio, which confuses Laila. Pinnocchio is the cartoon that Jalil promised to take Mariam to see, when he never came to pick her up. Jalil wrote Mariam a letter revealing that Afsoon, Nilofaur, and his son Farhad had been killed. Jalil writes that Mariam is a good daughter and he regrets not taking her in. Indeed, Jalil had lost much of his wealth to the communists, and he sold the rest of his land. Jalil asks Mariam to come visit him, because he says he is dying soon. He has enclosed Mariam's share of the inheritance in the box, converted into U.S. dollars. Laila shows Tariq the money in the box, and she cries.
The drought in Kabul has ended, and Tariq, Laila, and children, have rented a townhouse. Aziza continues to insist that Laila do the morning prayers with her, which Laila thinks is Aziza's way of remaining connected to Mariam. Tariq has begun working at a non-governmental organization which fits land mine victims with prosthetic limbs. Aziza's stutter begins to lessen, and both children attend school.
Kabul is changing, which Laila finds strange. The changes are mostly good, rebuilding and replanting. Laila wishes her parents could see Kabul today. However, Laila is distraught that the former warlords of Afghanistan now live in mansions and drive SUVs. However, Laila realizes that there is no point in resentment, and she lives on in hope.
Tariq and Laila volunteer at the orphanage which used to house Aziza. They work with Zaman to refurbish the facility. Laila and Tariq had been recognized for their contribution in the local newspaper, which reminds Laila of her friends' predictions. The children at the ophanage love Laila. Laila teaches a class which Aziza attends.
Laila reflects that she originally wished that she had known where Mariam is buried, but now she knows that Mariam is never far from her. Mariam is in Laila's heart. Laila becomes pregnant, and the family has been discussing only boys' names. If the child is a girl, she will be named Mariam.
Mariam makes the ultimate sacrifice for Laila and the children, as she is willing to take the blame, and ultimately suffer the ultimate punishment for Rasheed’s death. Her comment concerning her death as a legitimate end to illegitimate beginnings is an interesting one, because readers may consider this execution to be the epitome of illegitimacy of power, authority and control. However, Mariam knows that her actions against Rasheed were completely justified, and her execution is therefore a legitimate manner of death.
Laila finally finds the life she has been dreaming of with Tariq in Pakistan, but still yearns to go back to Afghanistan to help her country. Even after the world’s eye has focused on Afghanistan, she insists on returning and rebuilding. Before, Laila's insistence to remain in the land of Afghanistan was based on familial ties. Now, however, she has no familial ties left in the land, but feels a patriotic draw to assist her nation, despite the horror that she suffered there.
The end of the novel comes full circle with Tariq and Laila working to assist Zaman in the orphanage and ultimately ending up local heroes. Laila ending up in the newspaper mirrors the predictions made by her childhood friends earlier in the novel, but the work that she is doing also follows the predictions of Hakim that Afghanistan would need Laila.
The unknown location of Mariam's burial first upsets Laila, but later the unknown location serves as a symbol of the ubiquitous nature of Mariam's memory and soul. Since Mariam's body is not assigned to a specific known location, her soul remains unassigned a specific place as well.
Laila’s new pregnancy offers hope to the end of the book, and the determination to name a female child after Mariam is a fitting tribute to her. The image of the family sitting around the table discussing names parallels the images of Rasheed's family around the table. Yet, the tone of the scene is far more relaxed and joyful than any scene involving Rasheed. The end of the novel encapsulates a hopeful moment, one of Laila's pregnancy, a Kabul that is rebuilding, and a complete loving family. Yet, this is the first time in the novel that there is no chance for the next few pages to lay devastation to this hope. While Afghanistan's political woes obviously continue in reality, there are no more pages to ruin the lives of Tariq and Laila, and therefore the reader can only hope that they lived with reasonable peace and happiness, freed from the scourge of virtually permanent suffering.