Salome finishes her dance, which has impressed Herod. He reminds her that he has promised to grant any wish of hers, and she asks him to have brought to her, on a silver charger, the head of the prophet Iokanaan. Herodias, believing that Salome is avenging her honor, is pleased with the request, but the rest of the court is scandalized. Herod pleads with Salome to ignore her mother's wishes, but Salome assures the Tetrarch that she is acting on her own desires.
Herod tries bargaining with Salome in order to get her to retract her request. He offers her "the largest emerald in the whole world," his famous white peacocks, and a variety of precious jewels, including pearls, topaz stones, and magical turquoise--if she will reconsider her wish. Salome refuses all these offers, again asking for Iokanaan's head on a silver charger. Herod offers her parrot feather fans and a garment of ostrich feathers, which she also refuses. Finally Herod explains to Salome the grave consequences that will surely befall his court, if not the world, if her wish is granted, but Salome remains unconvinced. Again she asks for the head. To the concern of all at court, Herod reluctantly orders Iokanaan's execution.
Anticipating the slaughter, Salome waits above the cistern. She narrates the beheading according to what she can hear, noting that Iokanaan does not cry out. Realizing that the executioner has failed to do his job, she orders the Page of Herodias and the soldiers to force him to complete his task. Finally, the executioner emerges with Iokanaan's head on his silver shield.
Addressing Iokanaan's severed head, Salome begins a monologue in which she shifts through several different moods. First, she rejoices that she is finally able to kiss his mouth as she had wished. Second, she is frustrated and angry that his eyes are closed, indicating that, even in death, Iokanaan is unwilling to look at her. Third, she rages against the prophet for his repeated insults against her and her mother. Finally, Salome turns melancholy, speculating that had Iokanaan looked at her, he would have loved her the way she instantly loved him.
Meanwhile, Herod and Herodias exchange commentary on the events that have just passed. Herod feels certain that Salome has committed "a crime against some unknown God," and Herodias explains that her daughter "has done well." Certain that "some terrible thing" will befall his court, Herod orders his slaves to "put out the torches" and "hide the moon," and he prepares to leave the terrace for the relative safety of the palace interior.
As Herod's attendants extinguish the terrace torches, a cloud suddenly conceals the moon, leaving only a ray of light to illumine Salome as she finally kisses Iokanaan on the mouth. Catching sight of the kiss on his way up the palace staircase, Herod orders his soldiers to "kill that woman," and Salome is crushed to death beneath their shields.
Salome's monologue, addressed to Iokanaan's severed head, indicates the impossbility of her desire ever being truly fulfilled. Even in death, Iokanaan's eyes are closed; he still does not "look" at her as she has demanded. Throughout the play's narrative, the act of looking triggers and affirms the process of sexual desire, while the mutual look indicates its partial fulfillment. Characters reject others by either refusing to return glances or by gazing on another. Hence, Salome's statement: "If thou hadst seen me thou hadst loved me. I saw thee, and I loved thee." Iokanaan's closed eyelids indicate that he remains unattainable as the object of Salome's desire. He does not look at her; she is invisible to him and thus undesired.
Salome's death, ultimately, is the result of Herod's recognition of her desire for Iokanaan. As the executioner emerges from the cistern with the severed head of Iokanaan, Wilde's stage directions describe Herod hiding "his face with his cloak" as Salome seizes the head and begins her extended soliloquy. He is terrified of witnessing the scene of Salome's desire, as he indicates further when he instructs his servants to obscure it entirely:
Manassch, Issachar, Ozias, put out the torches. I will not look at things, I will not suffer things to look at me. Put out the torches! Hide the moon! Hide the stars! Let us hide ourselves in our palace, Herodias. I begin to be afraid.
Herod's fear of seeing Salome's performance with Iokanaan's head is well placed. His fear is of seeing her desire of Iokanaan, which indicates, in turn, the impossibility of ever fulfilling his own desire for her. In this sense, the scene of Salome's death echoes the scene of the Syrian's suicide. That is, according to the logic of the play, death is the easy answer to the acknowledgement of unfulfilled desire.
One of the most powerful suggestions of Salome's agency and her control over her own image appears in Beardsley's illustration, "The Toilette of Salome (I)." Salome, seated before an anachronistic Victorian vanity and clad in a 19th-century decollete gown, is being powdered by a fetus-like attendant wearing a mask. On the lower shelf of her vanity, a collection of books, including volumes by Zola and the Marquis de Sade, are arranged beneath a display of cosmetics and perfumes. The implication is that Salome is an erotic work of art (akin to the books on her vanity) who is "perfecting" herself for the Dance of the Seven Veils. The emphasis on artifice in the illustration is further suggested by the attendant's mask and the abundance of cosmetics, Salome's own "mask," in which she performs as an erotic spectacle for Herod. Even so, she is to some degree self-created, aware of her status as a spectacle and even more aware of how she can capitalize on it to her own advantage. In this way, Salome is the quintessential persona of Wildean aestheticism, summed up by his epigram: "The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible."
Visibility is again a key trope in the final scene. Herod seeks to darken the court entirely, putting the enactment of Salome's desire out of his sight, rendering it invisible and thus ineffective. He gets his wish as his servants extinguish the torches and, as Wilde's stage directions indicate, "A great cloud crosses the moon and conceals it completely ... the stage becomes quite dark." Salome finishes her soliloquy in complete darkness, her desire invisible to the king whose potency depends on its remaining out of sight. But this invisibility is temporary. The final action in the play, the fulfillment of Herod's imperative--"Kill that woman!"--results from a full illumination, the return of Salome's desire to complete visibility, when a ray of moonlight falls on Salome and illumines her. The stage directions here are crucial: Herod has previously been described as looking at Salome, but now, turning round, he sees her.
Feminist critics have noted in this final scene a confirmation of Salome's status as femme fatale (a dangerous woman). The femme fatale was a particularly important figure through which many late 19th-century artists worked through anxiety surrounding the increasing social and political visibility of women. From this perspective, Salome's kissing of Iokanaan's severed head represents the usurping of male power by female power (in part as symbolized by grasping Iokanaan's source of power, his voice, and in part by engaging in a forbidden practice). The moon, blood-colored as Iokanaan predicted, indicates the final correspondence between feminine power (symbolized by the moon) and mass destruction. The moment of Salome's kiss of the late Iokanaan marks the fulfillment of Salome's narrative arc. The girl proves herself a bloodthirsty femme fatale.