On the eve of Josef’s thirty-first birthday, two men in coats pay an unexpected visit to Josef’s apartment. Josef inexplicably seems to understand that the men have come for him. They silently escort him into the street and grasp him so tightly that the three men appear to have formed one mass.
At this point, Josef seems to accept his fate with a passivity that he has not displayed previously. He appears to have gained the sort of unquestioning faith in the inscrutable workings of the law that Franz, Willem, and the inspector displayed on the day of Josef’s arrest. Or perhaps he has lost faith in his ability to withstand it. Regardless, he is described as becoming one with his former captors.
The men reach an empty town square, decorated with flowers. Just as Josef makes up his mind to walk no further, he spots Fraulein Burstner, or a woman who greatly resembles her. Josef’s indifference to her identity makes him realize that resisting his captors would be pointless. He lets them lead him on, convinced that all that is left for him to do is maintain his common sense. He is grateful his escorts do not speak, so that he himself may say only what is necessary.
Josef’s struggle against the Law’s absurdities has eradicated any impulse to understand or influence his surroundings. When Josef realizes that he no longer cares about knowing whether the woman is Fraulein Burstner, he realizes that the Law has finally crushed his instinct to resist it.
The group passes over a bridge and Josef glances nostalgically at some benches where he had once rested. He is quickly embarrassed when the group slows down, and explains that he had no interest in actually stopping.
The Law has so alienated him from his existence that Josef is not only ashamed to be nostalgic for his past, he actually feels no such nostalgia or interest.
A policeman approaches Josef and his escorts. Josef forces his escorts to continue walking, and even breaks into a run. The group loses the policeman and approaches a quarry on the outskirts of town, to which a single building is adjacent.
Josef’s defiance of the policeman implies that the Law that governs him is somehow larger and more powerful than mere government.
The men prop Josef on a rock by the quarry and remove his coat and shirt. They behave bizarrely courteously towards each other and to Josef. One of the men produces a long butcher’s knife, and the two begin to pass it back and forth over Josef. Josef realizes that he is expected to take the knife and stab himself, but he resists doing so. Instead, Josef looks around; he notices someone with outstretched arms leaning from a window of the lone house. He wonders who the person could be, and ponders other unanswered questions about his trial.
Josef’s refusal to execute himself shows that he still possesses some spark of defiance. However, he has already submitted to the system too fully to resist it. Moreover, the questions he asks himself demonstrate that the year he has spent trying to decipher the Law has not contributed to any greater understanding of why he is being punished.
Josef raises his arms, but one of the men clasps his throat while the other thrusts the knife into his heart. As Josef’s vision begins to go dim, he sees the two men staring into his face, watching him die. The book’s final line describes Josef’s last words: “‘Like a dog!’ he said. It seemed as if his shame would live on after him.”
The book does not reveal anything profound in its conclusion—only more of the sorts of ambiguities that characterize the Law itself (and all the metaphorical readings one can make about the systems of law). Like the man in the parable who spends years sitting before the doorkeeper without gaining any understanding of his situation, Josef’s legacy shows that he has not transcended the same petty concerns of public appearance that plagued him at the outset of the novel. All of his resistance and efforts have not stopped the fact that he is going to die alone, that he was never going to be able to stop himself from suffering this verdict, feeling shame at where he as wound up even though he was always going to wind up there.