Tate and Kya sleep together on the beach that night. The next day, Tate moves into Kya’s shack and asks her to marry him. Looking at him, Kya says they’re already married—“like the geese.” Tate says that this is all right with him, and so begins their life, which they spend in happiness. Kya continues to publish books while Tate works as a research biologist. They make improvements to the shack and even build an addition, though they preserve certain things like the old woodstove and the kitchen table. For the rest of her life, Kya never goes to Barkley Cove again. The townspeople sometimes see her drifting through the marsh waters, and though some people continue to talk about what happened to Chase, most Barkley Cove citizens decide that Sheriff Jackson was wrong to arrest Kya, and they regret the way they treated her.
Simply put, Kya and Tate finally manage to live a happy life together. Having been forced into the public eye during her trial, Kya retreats back into a life of relative isolation, never going to town again for the rest of her days. What’s different, though, is that the townspeople are no longer so intolerant of her alternative lifestyle. In fact, most of them agree that they should have been kinder to her long before the trial, thereby showing her empathy and giving her the benefit of the doubt even if some citizens still wonder how Chase died.
Kya waits in the marsh for Tate to come home after a day in the marsh, loving all the while that she knows for sure that he’ll return. When he gets back, though, he gives her bad news: Jumpin’ died in his sleep the night before. This stings Kya, who has only ever experienced loss because of abandonment. This, she feels, is an entirely new kind of grief. After the funeral—which she doesn’t attend—she visits Mabel and gives her a jar of blackberry jam. Mabel tells her that Jumpin’ loved her like a daughter, to which Kya says, I know, and he was my pa.” While walking on the beach later that day, Kya thinks about Jumpin’ and then about Ma, suddenly feeling all right about the fact that she’s gone forever. “Good-bye, Ma,” she whispers.
That Kya sees Jumpin’ as her father suggests that humans are capable of building their own families, at least in terms of how they feel about one another. In the absence of a proper father, Kya turned to Jumpin’ as a child, adolescent, and young adult. Now that he’s gone, she’s finally able to recognize just how important his role was in her life, and this ultimately helps her see that she managed to survive her childhood without her biological parents. For this reason, Kya finds herself capable of finally coming to terms with her mother’s departure, bidding her farewell once and for all because she realizes that she has done just fine without Ma.
In the coming years, Barkley Cove and the surrounding area undergoes a number of changes, as developers arrive and turn the town into a tourist destination. In giftshops throughout the region, Kya’s books stand on display with signs that describe her as an “Award-Winning Biologist.” All in all, she publishes seven books and earns an honorary doctoral degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Despite these achievements, she stays in the marsh, declining to give speeches at the many institutions that invite her. She and Tate consider having children, but Kya never gets pregnant, which doesn’t particularly bother her. Instead, she focuses on her life in the marsh and her relationship with Tate, who has finally convinced her that “human love” is worthwhile. And yet, Kya still knows that the act of surviving sometimes takes precedent over all else.
Again, it’s clear that Kya has managed to find happiness in her life. This is because she has found a way to live a life of independence and relative isolation while also accepting and even giving “human love,” thereby banishing her frequent bouts of loneliness and connecting her to Tate in a reaffirming, emotionally sustaining manner. All the same, though, her acceptance of romance doesn’t change her overall outlook on life, which prioritizes survival over all else—a somewhat sinister fact, given that she seemingly no longer has any reason to think in such ruthless terms.
Kya dies at the age of 64 while floating in her boat. Tate finds her there and screams her name, but there’s nothing he can do, for she seems to have simply slumped over while enjoying the marsh. Tate buries Kya on her land, and the entire town comes to her funeral—so many people that Kya herself could never have imagined the turnout. On her tombstone, Tate inscribes her name and, under it, the words: “THE MARSH GIRL.”
When the entire town of Barkley Cove attends Kya’s funeral, readers see the extent to which the narrative surrounding her changed in the aftermath of the trial. Whereas people used to make unfair assumptions about her because of her socioeconomic class, now they seem to have a certain kind of respect for her. For this reason, Tate reclaims her nickname, the “Marsh Girl,” using it as a term of endearment instead of a nasty sign of the surrounding community’s insensitivity.
After Kya’s funeral, Tate walks back to their shack. While looking for Kya’s will, he comes upon an old cigar box containing the ashes of Ma’s letter, along with some trinkets. He also finds the deed for the property, but no will. Later, he continues his search when he discovers a secret compartment under one of the floorboards. Looking inside, he takes out a cardboard box and finds poems written by Amanda Hamilton—Kya’s favorite poet, though Tate never particularly resonated with her writing. As he looks at these pieces of paper, though, he sees that some of the poems are incomplete and that they’re written in Kya’s handwriting. All at once, he realizes that Kya was Amanda Hamilton.
When Owens reveals that Kya was Amanda Hamilton, readers see that she wasn’t quite as cut off from the world as it might have seemed. Indeed, Kya spent her life secretly composing poetry and publishing it under a penname, thereby interacting with society without having to actually leave the marsh. Once more, then, it becomes clear that even the most individualistic people yearn for some kind of human connection, regardless of what form it takes. After all, Tate taught Kya that poetry can make people feel something, meaning that she actively tried to connect on an emotional level with the people of Barkley Cove by publishing her poems in the local paper.
Looking at Kya’s poems, Tate finds one called “The Firefly.” It begins: “Luring him was as easy / As Flashing valentines. / But like a lady firefly / They hid a secret call to die.” The poem also includes the lines, “The last step, a trap. / Down, down he falls.” Tate reads the poem again, his heart hammering against his chest. Looking deep inside the cardboard box, he finds something else: the shell necklace that Chase wore until he died. Suddenly, it becomes clear to Tate that Kya did kill Chase, that she perfectly planned the murder by disguising herself on buses and riding her boat on riptides to get to the fire tower in time. Realizing this, he quickly burns the rest of Amanda Hamilton’s poems, takes the shell off the necklace, goes to the beach, and drops it among the others—thereby keeping Kya’s secret forever.
Throughout the novel, Kya has been interested in the ways in which female insects lure their mates only to destroy them. Observing this phenomenon in nature taught her that there’s a certain power in sex appeal, and she never thought of this as evil or wrong because she saw it as a simple fact of nature. According to this mindset, living things must do whatever it takes to survive, even if this sometimes requires acting mercilessly. When she realized that Chase had become a threat to her wellbeing, then, she lured him into a trap, sending him falling through the hatch in the fire tower. This, she apparently thought, was only a means of survival—after all, she knew that nobody would believe her when she said that Chase posed a threat to her. Consequently, she had to address the matter herself, becoming the human version of a female firefly in a mere act of survival.