About one month after her wedding, Elizabeth-Jane discovers that the caged goldfinch that had been found starved to death, had been brought to the wedding and forgotten by Henchard. Realizing that the bird had been a gift from Henchard causes Elizabeth-Jane to reflect and to wish to make her peace with her stepfather. Newson, although remaining in Casterbridge for a while after the wedding, eventually settled in Budmouth, as a more desirable residence near the sea.
The caged goldfinch, when found starved to death, represents Henchard rather than Elizabeth-Jane. Elizabeth-Jane has declared her independence from Henchard and achieved happiness, but when she sees the gift she realizes that Henchard is now alone and suffering. She, as Henchard frequently did, changes her mind too late.
Elizabeth-Jane tells Farfrae that she wishes to find Henchard, but when he cannot be found, Elizabeth-Jane remembers that he once considered suicide and worries what may have happened to him. Eventually, they hear a report from someone who saw Henchard on foot, and they take the gig to drive in that direction. They spend the day searching Egdon Heath, and as they are planning to turn around for the day, they see Abel Whittle.
Elizabeth-Jane thinks about Henchard’s desire to kill himself when her step-father cannot be found. This memory causes her interest in Henchard to increase, as she worries for his life. She is willing to go on an extensive search for her stepfather.
Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae follow Abel Whittle to a cottage where they see him enter. When they enter the cottage, they find Abel who is deeply saddened. He reports that Mr. Henchard has died just before their arrival. Henchard, Abel says, was kind to his mother, and supported the poor woman, even though he was rough on Abel for his tardiness. Abel explains that he saw Henchard leaving Casterbridge after the wedding and he followed him. Henchard grew weak and sick on the road and Abel brought him to the abandoned cottage and cared for him.
Abel Whittle cared for Henchard in his final hours. This minor character, who Henchard once mistreated, reappears in Henchard’s life in his moment of need. Henchard receives an astonishing amount of forgiveness from other people throughout the novel. But the novel reinforces the idea that forgiveness can come too late, as Elizabeth-Jane loses her chance to make peace with her stepfather.
Abel shows Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae a will that Henchard produced before he died. The will does not describe any inheritance, as Henchard owned nothing by the end of his life, but asks that Elizabeth-Jane not be told of his death, and that no funeral with mourners be held for him, and that no one remember him.
Henchard’s will is, in fact, the opposite of a will. He has nothing to pass on, and his requests are only the absence of things—that nothing happen after his death—rather than plans for the future after he is gone.
Elizabeth-Jane is moved by Henchard’s bitterness in his will and regrets her unkindness at their last meeting. For a long while, her regrets about her relationship with her stepfather are painful. But eventually the happiness and tranquility of her adult and married life prevails. She had suffered in her youth, and so, in her secure adulthood, must consider herself fortunate, despite having grown up viewing life as moments of happiness among more extended periods of pain.
Elizabeth-Jane’s guilt over her relationship with Henchard shows that she is motivated by care for others. She eventually is able to appreciate her own happiness, despite having grown up feeling that life involves mostly suffering. The novel ends on this note, having resolved the consequences of Henchard’s life and character, which ultimately only destroyed himself.