New York City is strewn with corpses and dead bodies. Massive tentacles rope through streets and buildings, connected to a huge, dead, squid-like monster. Jon and Laurie teleport into the middle of the carnage and see all of the corpses. Jon theorizes on the science of it, guessing that someone is generating “tachyons,” which inhibit his ability to know the future. Laurie reflects on how sad it is that so many people died while simply living their lives, buying Indian food or walking around. Jon senses that the tachyons are coming from Antarctica, and Laurie just wants to leave the city, so they teleport away.
Tachyons are a theoretical type of particle that moves faster than light, though they’ve never been proven to exist. Laurie’s sadness over the fact that these people no longer get to simply live their lives refers back to her prior conversation with Jon, where they decided that human life was a miracle in itself. For Laurie, a simple act like eating Indian food becomes a brief but poignant symbol for enjoying one’s daily, mundane life.
In Veidt’s base, Daniel says he doesn’t believe that Veidt actually carried out his plan. Veidt insists that he did and jokes that he can even catch bullets. Rorschach believes Veidt and asks him to send Bubastis away so they can fight to the death. Veidt ignores Rorschach and explains to Daniel that the monster’s brain was the key. He found a psychic named Robert Deschaines, whose brain amplified and projected thought waves. His scientists then cloned the psychic’s brain and loaded it with images and descriptions of alien worlds created by Max Shea and Hira Manish. When the creature teleported into New York, those not killed by the blast had their brains flooded with visions of an alien world. On one of his screens, Veidt sees that Jon and Laurie have arrived.
Daniel and Rorschach’s differing responses to Veidt’s revelation typifies their differing demeanors. Daniel’s response is plain denial, reflecting how he avoids or runs from evil or problems he cannot handle. Rorschach’s response is to fight Veidt, to enact retribution for what Rorschach sees as an evil—even though punishing Veidt will not do anything to avert his plan or save people. However, Veidt utterly ignores Rorschach’s demand for a duel, suggesting that he views Rorschach’s strict moralism as a futile pursuit.
Jon realizes that Veidt has been using tachyons to disrupt Jon’s ability to see the future. He walks into Veidt’s fortress, passing Rorschach, but feels “drugged” and confused by the tachyon swirl. Veidt hides, but Jon sees Bubastis standing in some sort of machine labeled “intrinsic field subtractor,” and approaches the cat. Hiding behind a wall, Veidt activates the machine and disintegrates both Jon and Bubastis. Laurie appears and shoots a handgun at Veidt, but he leaps backward and catches the bullet in his palm, spurting blood from his hand but otherwise unharmed. The action stuns Laurie, and Veidt kicks her aside.
Although Veidt is only human like the other vigilantes aside from Jon, his ability to catch Laurie’s bullet ambiguously hints that he may somehow have become more than human. However, the blood from his hand indicates that he is not invincible, just highly unusual. Killing his beloved Bubastis again reflects Veidt’s utilitarianism, since he sacrifices his prized pet to kill Jon and stop him from disrupting his ultimate plan.
Veidt stands and begins to announce his victory, but Jon’s massive arm smashes through the wall. Jon announces that he can reconstruct himself at will, just as Dr. Manhattan reformed after the original Jon Osterman was disintegrated. Jon announces that he will crush Veidt, but Veidt turns his wall of TV screens to the news. Most of the news reporters are grappling with the horror of the attack, but several report that the U.S. and the Soviets are both laying down their arms and declaring an immediate truce.
Jon’s ability to resurrect himself again establishes him as the only god-figure within the story. However, Veidt sits in the messianic role, sacrificing his personal morality and the lives of millions of people to (in his eyes) save the world. The news reports that America and the Soviets are laying down arms indicate that Veidt’s plan, however objectionable, has worked.
Veidt raises his arms in the air and declares, “I did it.” He announces that he fulfilled Rameses’s ambitions and will move on to helping human society rebuild. Laurie says they must bring him to justice, but Veidt explains that if they reveal his plot, everyone will know there is no alien threat, the world will return to war, and those millions will have died for nothing. Veidt asks everyone else to accept the “compromise” for the good of humanity. This horrifies Jon, Laurie, and Daniel, but they accept that Veidt is right. However, Rorschach refuses to compromise, “even in the face of Armageddon.” Rorschach leaves, intent on revealing Veidt’s plan to the world despite everyone else’s objections. Veidt tells Daniel and Laurie to make themselves “at home.” Jon disappears.
Rorschach’s intention to reveal Veidt’s plan and bring him to justice rises from his absolute refusal to compromise his morals and insistence that evil must always be punished. This scenario tests the limits of Rorschach’s moralistic view of ethics, since remaining true to his morals means shattering the new world peace that Veidt sacrificed millions of lives to achieve. Rorschach’s unwillingness to compromise suggests that he ultimately places his own moral fortitude over the wellbeing of everyone on Earth, which seems paradoxically to go against the moralistic ethos he expresses.
Daniel and Laurie walk to a quiet, luxurious indoor pool in Veidt’s fortress. Laurie feels confused after what she learned on Mars and all the carnage in New York. Dan worries about whether Jon cares that he and Laurie are together. Laurie tells him it doesn’t matter. They have the opportunity to live and argue and eat Indian food and love each other. Life is “so damn sweet” and they should love each other, because they are alive and they can. They kiss.
Laurie’s conviction that she and Daniel should live their lives and enjoy themselves—because they can and the dead cannot—suggests that a simple appreciation of life, without searching for grander meaning, is the antidote to nihilism. That is, one should enjoy the life they have to live simply because they have the chance to live it.
Jon confronts Rorschach as he walks through the snow, back to the airship to return to America. Jon tells Rorschach he cannot allow him to reveal Veidt’s actions. Rorschach understands why Jon feels this way and tells him to go ahead and kill him. He pulls off his mask, revealing Walter Kovac’s face, tears streaming from his eyes. Jon points his arm out and makes Walter explode.
Rorschach’s decision to remove his mask signifies that he accepts his own limitations and chooses to die as his true self, as Walter Kovacs. Although Rorschach gave him the ability to operate in a chaotic world, his inability to bring Veidt to justice shows Kovacs that the constructed identity has its natural limitations as well.
Jon walks back into the fortress, past Laurie and Dan sleeping naked together by the pool, and up to where Adrian sits, meditating. Veidt justifies his actions and hopes Jon will help him build a new utopia on earth, but Jon states that he would like to create life himself on a new planet. As Jon begins to leave, Veidt asks him if he “did the right thing” since it all “worked out in the end.” Jon tells him, “Nothing ever ends,” and disappears.
Veidt’s questions to Jon suggest that some part of him is uncertain about whether he made the right choice. Jon’s statement that there is no “end” implies that Veidt may have established peace for now, but there is no way to know whether that peace will last. This highlights a flaw of a utilitarian ethical stance as well, since one may take despicable actions to achieve a noble result, but the future is never certain—one cannot know that the results of their actions will not be undone, as Rorschach nearly undid the results of Veidt’s actions.
At Christmas, Dan and Laurie visit Sally in California. They’ve both changed their appearances and taken the aliases Sam and Linda Hollis. They briefly exchange gifts and Laurie tells her mother that she knows the Comedian was her father. Sally breaks down and apologizes, but Laurie forgives her and tells her that life is strange and unpredictable. As they leave, Dan and Laurie chat about taking up their hero identities again, but Laurie wants to wear a leather mask and carry a gun. Alone in her home, Sally kisses a framed photo of the Comedian and sobs.
Laurie’s willingness to forgive Sally and accept that the Comedian is her father suggests that the devastation she saw, and the realization that life is a rare miracle, helps her recognize that anything can happen, and people should be valued regardless. Sally’s kiss on the Comedian’s photo suggests that she secretly still loves him after all these years, despite what he did to her.
In the New Frontiersman office, Seymour and Godfrey work on another issue. Godfrey is bitter that the U.S. and Russia are on good terms and that Russian language is seeping into American culture. Their new issue needs a filler piece, so Godfrey tells Seymour to pick whatever he wants from the “crank file.” Seymour’s hand hovers over a pile of articles and pamphlets, amongst which is Rorschach’s journal.
Watchmen’s ending is intentionally ambiguous, leaving the possibility open that Rorschach’s journal will be discovered, Veidt’s plan will be revealed, and the new world peace will fall apart. This leaves the ethical dilemma of Veidt’s plan as open-ended as possible, urging the reader to wrestle with the quandary and decide for themselves whether or not his actions were morally correct.