Neville wakes up and wonders, “Where am I?” There’s an awful pain in his chest, and he sees that there’s a big bandage on his body. He looks around and sees that he’s in some kind of a cell. After three years of spending every day in the same house, the experience of being in another place is surreal for Neville.
The final chapter of the book takes places in an unfamiliar location, emphasizing the fact that Neville is, both literally and metaphorically, “out of place” in the new vampire society—he’s a vestige of the obsolete human society.
Suddenly the door opens and someone walks in—“my executioner,” Neville thinks. A woman asks, “Are you thirsty?”, gives him some water, then wipes his perspiring forehead. Neville sees that the woman is Ruth. Ruth asks, “Why did you fight them? They had orders to bring you in unharmed.” Ruth explains that her “new society” is violent, but only for the sake of survival. The new society consists of living vampires, and they kill dead vampires—Neville’s mistake was that he killed both dead and living vampires. Neville points out that the dark-suited men from the previous night were clearly enjoying the act of killing. Ruth replies that Neville, too, enjoyed killing vampires—he’s no more or less sadistic than the people of the new society.
Ruth’s claims that the new vampire society is violent, but only “for the sake of survival,” seem to contradict the brutality and bloodthirstiness that Neville witnessed in the previous chapter. However, even if Ruth and the new vampires are hypocritical in their attitude toward violence, they’re no more hypocritical than Neville himself. Although Neville has always killed vampires for the sake of his own survival, Matheson has made it clear that he sometimes takes pleasure in the act of killing, often smiling while he drives a stake into his enemies’ bodies.
Ruth whispers that she’s a ranking officer in the new society. Outside, the people of the new society are waiting for Neville’s execution: they are terrified of Neville, and want him dead. Neville nods as he hears this—he seems eerily calm. This Ruth seems altogether different than the woman he met—much more official and formal in her manner. Neville asks Ruth, “Don’t let it get too brutal. Too heartless.” Ruth pauses, and then says, “I’ll try.” She gives Neville a handful of pills “to make it easier,” and says, “You’ll be with her soon.”
From the perspective of the new vampires, Neville is a monstrous killer, who’s been murdering vampires in their sleep for years—they want him to be executed for his crimes. On some level, Neville seems to accept that he deserves to die—all he asks is that his execution not be “too brutal.” But Neville’s request has an interesting double meaning: perhaps he’s also advising Ruth not to let her new society become too brutal and destructive—in other words, not to make the same mistakes he’s made. The pills that Ruth gives Neville have sparked a lot of confusion (especially since she gives Neville a different pill in Chapter 19). However, the fact that Ruth tells Neville that he’ll be with “her” (presumably, his dead wife, Virginia) would suggest that she’s given Neville some sort of painkiller or lethal poison, so that he won’t suffer during his execution.
Neville stands up, trying to ignore the searing pain in his chest, and walks outside. He sees a huge group of white-faced people, and realizes that they’re afraid of him—he’s the odd man out. Neville understands why the white-faced people hate him: he’s spent the last three years killing them in their sleep. He clutches the pills in his hand and thinks, “So long as the end did not come with violence, so long as it did not have to be a butchery.” He swallows the pills. As he does so, something darkly amusing occurs to him: he has become a terror, “a new superstition.” As “the final lethargy” engulfs him, he thinks, “I am legend.”
At the end of the novel, Neville finally sees things from his enemies’ point of view. Throughout the novel, he’s operated under the assumption that humans are “right” and vampires are “wrong”—and, therefore, that he’s morally justified in killing vampires in their sleep. However, as he ingests the pills (which will, presumably, cause his death—the “final lethargy”), Neville realizes that he’s no better than the vampires he’s been fighting. Indeed, Neville is just as much of a murderous monster as vampires once were in human society: like a vampire, he sneaks into people’s houses and kills his victims in their sleep. Thus, in the final line of the book (which also serves as the book’s title), Neville accepts that he is a monster. Furthermore, the final line suggests that human society—of which Neville was the last representative—is now fading into the past; it, too, has become a mere legend.