What happens at the end of Heart of Darkness?

At the end of Heart of Darkness, Marlow visits Kurtz's "Intended" (fiancée) and lies to her that Kurtz's last word was her name. The story then returns to the frame narrative, and with the final lines, the narrator emphasizes the novel's theme of darkness.

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At the end of Heart of Darkness, Marlow has returned from Africa a bitter, cynical man. He goes to see the woman Kurtz called his "Intended" (that is, his fiancée, the woman he intended to marry) and finds that, although it is over a year since Kurtz's death, she is still deep in mourning. She speaks of Kurtz with reverence, saying that it was impossible for anyone who knew him not to love and admire him. From Marlow, she seeks details of his last hours and his death, and Marlow thinks of Kurtz's dying words, "The horror! The horror!" He lets slip that he was with Kurtz at the end and heard the last words he said. Kurtz's Intended begs to know what this was.

"His last word—to live with," she insisted. "Don’t you understand I loved him—I loved him—I loved him!"

I pulled myself together and spoke slowly.

"The last word he pronounced was—your name."

The woman starts to weep, and Marlow feels as though the house will fall on his head for telling such a lie. He then wonders what would have happened if he had told the truth, but decides that this would have been "too dark—too dark altogether." This is the end of Marlow's story, and the story returns to the frame narrative for a final brief paragraph, with the narrator Marlow's appearance to that of a Buddha statue, echoing a comparison at the beginning of the novella. The narrator also emphasizes the motif of darkness in the last sentence.

Nobody moved for a time. “We have lost the first of the ebb,” said the Director suddenly. I raised my head. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky—seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.

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