On his way into London, the narrator passes a drunk man slumped amidst a patch of red weed. When he tries to gain information from this man, the drunkard only curses at him and lunges to attack. Moving on, the narrator walks through London, where the streets are “horribly quiet.” Some houses burn, and dead bodies are strewn about the sidewalks, caked in the Black Powder. Some sections of the city have remained untouched by the Black Smoke, but many of the shops have been looted by humans. In South Kensington—near Hyde Park—the narrator hears a strange undulation, a “superhuman note” vacillating through the air: “Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla.” He follows the sound, which takes “possession” of him, all the while wondering why he—of all people—has been spared.
Once again, communication and the dissemination of information fails the narrator, as the drunkard not only proves himself unable to hold a conversation, but also responds with hostility to the narrator’s questions. This leaves the narrator utterly alone in an eerily empty city scarred by Martian destruction and human opportunism alike. His loneliness is emphasized by the otherworldly sound echoing throughout the streets, a haunting note that reminds him that—though he’s walking through his home country—he’s venturing into the unknown.
Finding an empty pub, the narrator has a drink and something to eat. When he exits, he finally sees the Martian fighting machine that has been making the noise—it’s standing motionless at the end of a street, and the narrator ventures toward it, suddenly void of all fear. Upon reaching the Martian, he stands there and watches, but the creature does nothing—it just goes on wailing. Moving onward, he passes a dog running in the street with a “piece of putrescent red meat” hanging out of its mouth. He then comes upon a destroyed handling-machine—the machine from which the dog pulled its meat. As the narrator continues walking, the haunting ululation falls haltingly silent.
In this moment, the narrator is abandoned by both humans and Martians, left to construct his own narrative about what has happened. In the absence of newspapers, human communication, or firsthand knowledge, he finds himself in the lonely position of having to piece together what has happened.
In the small hours of dawn, the narrator walks up a hill and looks over the city. He sees another Martian fighting machine standing still. Sick of waiting, he decides to end things once and for all, and resolves to speed along his inevitable death by walking directly toward this Martian. As he advances, though, the sun lifts, and in the sky he sees a collection of crows flying around and landing on the fighting machine’s hood. Feeling fearless, he draws nearer and beholds a piece of the red weed hanging from where the Martian sits dead in its cockpit. Looking around, he comprehends that the Martians have died, “slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.”
Yet again, the theory of evolution and natural selection comes to the forefront of The War of the Worlds, this time as the narrator identifies earthly bacteria as the novel’s hero. The pure simplicity of how the Martians are defeated makes the artilleryman’s elaborate plans look all the more ridiculous and farfetched; humans only needed to wait for the Martians to fall prey to infection, a menace that humankind itself has struggled with for centuries and, through the process of natural selection, triumphed over.
The narrator explains again that Mars has no bacteria, thereby rendering the Martians defenseless against the “germs of disease [that] have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things.” Humans, on the other hand, have undergone a long process of natural selection that has resulted in a certain “resisting-power” against destructive micro-organisms. The narrator notes that, even while the Martians were so efficiently destroying humanity, they were already doomed by infection. Surveying the mess, the narrator sees the flying-machine the Martians had been constructing at the time of their death. Rejoicing, he views London from his high vantage point, overwhelmed by the thought that humanity will continue. “In a year, thought I,” he writes, “—in a year…” Then, all at once, his mind turns to his wife, and to his old life of “hope and tender helpfulness,” which has “ceased forever.”
Upon understanding that the Martians have died, the narrator’s relief quickly turns into something more complicated, for the life he used to know and love will never again be the same. Indeed, the Martians’ arrival has rocked humanity to its core, and there’s essentially no way to move forward in the same direction as before. In a way, this notion aligns with the artilleryman’s desire to change the course of human existence—the life of “hope and tender helpfulness” has “ceased forever” because humans will no longer be able to complacently take survival for granted.