The Curtis brothers prepare for the rumble by putting on nice clothes and slicking their hair. Ponyboy, still feeling ill and out of it, takes five aspirin while no one's looking.
The greasers accentuate their group look to strengthen their solidarity. Ponyboy hides his illness so he can help the greasers and fight in the rumble.
Joined by Steve and Two-Bit, the Curtis brothers head to the rumble. Ponyboy still has a bad feeling about the rumble, and as they walk he thinks about why people fight in general, and in particular why his brothers and friends want to fight in the rumble: "Soda fought for fun, Steve for hatred, Darry for pride, and Two-Bit for conformity." Ponyboy decides that self-defense is actually the only good reason to fight.
Though Ponyboy goes along with the gang, his reservations about fighting persist. His thoughts perceptively explain all of the reasons why individuals give themselves up to the goals of a larger group.
The greasers arrive at the vacant lot and find Tim Shepard's gang already there, along with another group from a suburb called Brumly. Ponyboy studies the boys from the other greaser gangs, and realizes that these boys are all "future convicts," and that his own brothers and friends are not. He looks over at Darry, and knows that Darry will work his way out of the street life. Ponyboy vows to do the same. When Tim Shepard congratulates Ponyboy on the killing of Bob, Ponyboy pretends to be proud.
The behavior of the other gang members shows Pony that his own brothers and friends may look like hoods and criminals, but aren't criminals at all. Through Darry, he comes to see that he could have a bright future. Yet at the same time, Pony still isn't strong enough in his convictions to tell Tim that he isn't proud of killing Bob.
22 Socs arrive to fight the 20 greasers already there. As Ponyboy observes the Socs' preppy clothes, he reflects that their clean-cut looks mask some of the Socs' actual meanness, while the greasers' looks mask many of the boys' kindness and sensitivity.
Ponyboy is now able to look past the outward appearance of the two groups and see the truth beneath.
Darry offers to take on any Soc. A Soc steps forward whom Ponyboy recognizes as a boy named Paul Holden, a former friend of Darry's on the high school football team, who had gone on to college while Darry had been forced to work.
The confrontation between Paul and Darry exemplifies the opportunity gap between Socs and greasers, and it shows how easily individual friendships can be altered by gang allegiance.
Just as the rumble begins, Dally runs in to join the fight. He used Two-Bit's switchblade to force his way out of the hospital.
Dally's intense allegiance to his friends and enjoyment of a fight is reflected in the disregard for his health he shows by escaping from the hospital.
The fight is brutal. Ponyboy suffers numerous injuries, and is about to pass out when he hears a voice yelling that the Socs have fled. Despite their bruises, cuts, and broken bones, the greasers rejoice over their win.
The violence of the gangs' conflict is depicted in graphic detail.
Dally grabs Ponyboy and insists that they rush to the hospital to tell the news to Johnny, whose condition is now critical. Dally drives Buck Merril's car so fast that a policeman stops him. He makes up a lie that Ponyboy fell off of his motorcycle, and the officer, seeing Ponyboy's injured state, believes his story and escorts them to the hospital.
Because the gang conflict is all that he has, Dally believes that news of the greaser's win will make Johnny happy. Though Dally is wrong, his desire to make Johnny happy in Johnny's last moments is sincere.
As he drives, Dally says that if Ponyboy and Johnny just got tough like him, nothing could hurt them anymore. They would not have rushed into that fire, for example.
Dally's right: becoming hardened would protect Ponyboy from feeling pain, but at the cost of the most idealistic and noble parts of his nature.
At the hospital, the boys run to Johnny's room. A doctor tells them that Johnny is dying, and Dally threatens him with Two-Bit's switchblade, fearing that the doctor won't let them in. The doctor replies that he'll let them see Johnny because they're his friends, not because of the knife.
Dally sees violence as the only way to get anything. The doctor's response shows that Dally is wrong.
Dally excitedly tells Johnny the news about the rumble, but Johnny replies, "Useless fighting's no good." Dally then tells Johnny how proud everyone is of his actions at the fire, and Johnny's eyes glow. Johnny musters the strength to say one last thing, to Ponyboy: "Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold." He dies. Dally, grief-stricken, runs from the hospital.
Johnny's dying words contradict Dally's message to Ponyboy in the car. In telling Pony to "stay gold," he is telling him to preserve his idealism and sensitivity and engage with the world rather than to hide from the world by hardening himself to it.