The Narrator wakes up in Tyler’s house—Tyler is standing over him. Tyler tells the Narrator, “The last thing we have to do is your martyrdom thing. Your big death thing.” Tyler explains that the Narrator must die—inside a huge skyscraper, which Project Mayhem will blow up.
Tyler wants the Narrator—and therefore himself—to die in a “glorious” explosion. As Tyler explains to the Narrator, he wants “them” to die to set an example for their followers (and, presumably, so the Narrator can’t work to undo any of Tyler’s work). The word “martyrdom” suggests religious saints who died for their faith, inspiring their followers. But Tyler and the Narrator wouldn’t be dying for a god; they’d be dying to celebrate pain and death itself, inspiring the space monkeys to be increasingly violent and dangerous themselves.
Moments later, Tyler and the Narrator are in the top floor of the skyscraper (exactly where they were at the beginning of the novel). The building is primed to blow up in only three minutes.
The novel has finally come full-circle: the flashbacks are over, and we pick up where we started.
The Narrator hears a yell, and suddenly Marla rushes into the room. She’s followed by the people from the testicular cancer support group. The Narrator realizes that, from the perspective of the support group, he’s just an insane guy pointing a gun into his mouth. They shout, “Stop!” and “Let us help you!” The Narrator yells out that he’s killing Tyler, not himself.
Marla has already indirectly saved the Narrator’s life once (she inspired him not to kill himself)—now, it seems, she’s poised to do the same thing again. The cancer support group (not understanding the Narrator’s split personality) mistakenly thinks he’s a suicidal cancer patient.
With only one minute to the explosion, Marla shouts, “I think I like you, too.” Then she corrects herself, “I like you. I know the difference.” The timer goes off, but there’s no explosion.
Marla reciprocates the Narrator’s feelings—although again, her feelings are “like,” not “love,” contrary to what Tyler has claimed. “I know the difference” suggests that Marla likes the Narrator—the sane, moral half of “the Narrator”—rather than Tyler—the charismatic but immoral other half.
The Narrator realizes what’s happened: previously, Tyler and his team planned to blow up the building using a bomb made from two chemicals, vitro and paraffin. The Narrator knows this, “because Tyler knows this”; he also considers paraffin a risky and less reliable material for bomb making. Because of faulty chemicals, Tyler’s plan to blow up the skyscraper has failed. Suddenly, the Narrator decides, “I have to do this,” and fires his gun at himself.
Tyler has botched the bombing—because, we’re told, Tyler used unreliable chemicals. Previously, the Narrator’s psychic connection with Tyler (“I know this because Tyler knows this”) has reinforced Tyler’s skill and resourcefulness. Here, though, Palahniuk suggests the opposite: the Narrator seems like the resourceful bomb-maker, while Tyler is the clumsy amateur. The Narrator’s decision to shoot himself suggests that he’s trying to atone for Tyler’s crimes, while also preventing Tyler from committing any more crimes. And yet in killing himself, the Narrator is still doing what Tyler envisioned (“your big death thing”).