The day after the battle of the Shire, Frodo releases the prisoners from the distant prisons. One of the prisoners is Lobelia, Lotho’s mother, who is so sad to hear of Lotho’s death that she refuses to return to Bag-End, giving the home back to Frodo. The mayor, who was also locked up, appoints Frodo as his deputy while he recovers from his imprisonment. The only thing Frodo does with this power is to reduce the number of guards to their original group. Merry and Pippin take on the task of hunting out the last ruffians. By the end of the year, all surviving ruffians have been removed from the Shire.
Even though Lotho sent his mother, Lobelia, to prison, she still loves and grieves for him, suggesting that even the greediest heart has room for love and affection. Her gift to Frodo and the mayor’s trust in him as deputy show that Frodo is widely respected in the Shire and his return buoys the hobbits with hope and strength. He proves his resounding lack of greed for power by only using his title to restore things to the way they were before he left.
Sam keeps busy helping with repairs. By Yule, there isn’t a trace left of any of Saruman’s men’s constructions, and the bricks from those have been used to repair and fortify the old hobbit holes. The hobbits find large amounts of food and drink hidden away which make the Yule season a lot more cheerful. Bag End is restored, and new hobbit holes are dug into Bagshot Row.
The hobbits’ use of the ruffians’ building materials to repair their own houses proves their resourcefulness and adaptability in the face of destruction. They’re an industrious people and quick to set the Shire back to its previous state, suggesting that they’re driven by the idea of restoring their home to all its beauty and comfort.
Sam grieves for the loss of all the trees. He remembers Galadriel’s gift to him: a small box of dust with a seed inside. He sprinkles some of the dust at the roots of the new saplings and plants the seed in the Party Field where the old Party Tree was. In spring, Sam’s trees grow incredibly quickly, and the tree in the Party Field is revealed to be a mallorn—the only one in this part of the world. This year in the Shire is plentiful and happy. The crops and children are healthy.
Sam’s act of planting the new trees along with Galadriel’s gift of the dust and seed is a sign of hope that the Shire will return to its former beauty, or perhaps become even more beautiful in the face of destruction, implying that nature will always triumph and will flourish—especially when cared for.
In early March, Frodo falls ill. Sam doesn’t learn about this, because he’s away on a gardening errand and Frodo tells him nothing when he returns. Bag End is now in order, and Frodo asks Sam when he’ll move in to join him. Sam explains that he wants to marry Rosie, so Frodo tells him to do that and move into Bag End with her—there’s plenty of room. Frodo eventually resigns the office of Deputy Mayor and focuses on his writing. Merry and Pippin live together for a while and are known around the Shire for their shining armor and joyous songs.
Frodo’s desire for Sam’s happiness, perhaps amplified by his gratitude for Sam’s companionship on the journey to Mount Doom, leads him to keep his illness and unhappiness from him—he doesn’t want to cloud Sam’s peace with his problems. But he’s unafraid to show Sam his affection, which allows him to invite Sam and his growing family into Bag End. This also shows that Frodo, like many hobbits, treasures companionship and the chance to share his home with the ones he loves.
Sam is saddened by the fact that Frodo disappears from the Shire’s social life and isn’t paid much attention. The other hobbits are more excited by Merry and Pippin, and Sam, too, though Sam doesn’t realize it. In autumn, Frodo tells Sam that his wound still bothers him and will never really heal. Frodo seems to improve after this, though in March he hides his illness again because Sam and Rosie’s first child arrives. Sam asks what to call her; Frodo suggests “Elanor,” after the flower that grows in Lothlórien.
The widespread attitude towards the four returning hobbits shows that Pippin, Merry, and Sam’s desire to be celebrated in song and society is a typical hobbit desire, and able to be reciprocated by their peers. But Frodo’s preference for privacy and introspection is less easily understood by the people of the Shire, which then leads to their apparent lack of respect for him. Sam’s travels prove a continuing source of joy for him, suggested by the Elvish name he gives to his firstborn child; he’ll never relinquish the happiness he felt in Lothlórien.
Frodo asks Sam to tell Rosie he’ll be away for a week or two, because he wants Sam to join him on a journey. Sam thinks Frodo is going to Rivendell for Bilbo’s birthday, and says he feels “torn in two” not to be able to be with both Frodo and Rosie at once. Frodo prepares for his journey by going over his writing with Sam and giving him the keys to Bag End. At the end of the book he’s been writing in, there are some blank pages. Some of the titles are Bilbo’s, but Frodo’s reads, “The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings and the Return of the King.” Sam exclaims that Frodo has nearly finished. Frodo replies that he has finished—the last pages are for Sam.
Frodo is unable to tell Sam the true reason for his upcoming journey, perhaps because he doesn’t want to cause Sam more grief than necessary. The blank pages at the end of his book are a clear symbol that he's entrusting the rest of the tale to Sam, who will remain in Middle-earth and make many more stories in the years to come; further, it’s a sign that Frodo has relinquished his own part of the story, accepting that his fate is to leave.
Frodo and Sam set out in September. Frodo begins to sing an old walking-song, which seems to be answered by a different song from a group approaching along the road. Sam is surprised to see Elrond and Galadriel in the group. They are each wearing one of the Three Rings. Bilbo follows, riding on a pony. He asks Frodo if he’s ready for another journey. Sam realizes that Frodo’s going with Bilbo and the Elves to the Grey Havens, and Sam can’t go with them.
In journeying to the Undying Lands, Frodo and Bilbo are being granted a gift that is granted to the bearers of the powerful Elven rings. This suggests that the Elves appreciate Bilbo and Frodo’s time as bearers of the Ring as huge sacrifices on both their parts.
Sam begins to cry. He thought Frodo would live in the Shire for many years after working so hard to save it. Frodo says he thought the same, but his wound proved impossible to heal. He has made Sam his heir and tells him it’s his responsibility to keep the stories of the past years so that the people of the Shire know how precious their safety is. He tells Sam to ride with him for now. When they arrive at the Havens, there’s a white ship waiting, and Gandalf is beside it. They see that he’s wearing the other of the Three Rings, and it’s clear he will be leaving on the ship, too. Sam watches the Elves board the ship and thinks about his journey home alone, but then Merry and Pippin ride up—Gandalf told them to come.
The profound sadness Sam feels at Frodo’s departure is a reminder of the companionship the two built not as servant and master but as equals on their journey to Mount Doom: such a journey of mutual struggle, care, and sacrifice has bound them together. This makes Frodo’s decision to leave all the more drastic and proves that he feels such pain and weariness from the effects of his wounds and burdens that he's certain he won’t recover during his mortal life. Gandalf told Merry and Pippin to join Sam because he’s aware that companionship is one of the best ways to deal with sorrow.
Gandalf says that Sam’s journey back will be better with company. He says goodbye to Sam, Merry, and Pippin, and tells them they shouldn’t avoid crying: “Not all tears are an evil.” Frodo kisses Merry, Pippin, and Sam and boards the ship. Eventually he smells a sweet scent and hears singing over the water and arrives in a green, bright country. Sam, Merry, and Pippin watch the ship leave in silence before riding home together. Merry and Pippin leave Sam and go in the direction of Buckland. Sam heads back to Bag End. The fire is lit and dinner is ready. Rosie embraces him and puts Elanor on his knee. Sam says, “Well, I’m back.”
Gandalf imbues the parting wisdom that joy and sadness can coexist without cancelling each other out—in fact, perhaps grieving something precious makes one’s joy more profound. Frodo’s experience of a green, bright world upon his arrival in the Undying Lands is a final sign that beauty and nature endure even in the event of widespread destruction. This ending suggests that there is always beauty on the other side of pain.