At the end of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, where does Montag end up?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the exciting conclusion of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Montag is running for his life after killing Beatty.

The Mechanical Hound is fast on Montag's heels. At Faber's house, the alert is being broadcasted:

—Mechanical Hound never fails. Never since its first use in tracking quarry has this incredible invention made a mistake.

Montag has heard that other people like him are living down the railroad tracks, but first he must make it to the river. The river will not only carry him to his destination, but it will obscure Montag's scent from the Mechanical Hound. 

As Montag leaves Faber's house, he begins to run as hard as he can. He places a Seashell in his ear and hears a direction given for the very first time—why, he wonders, had they not thought of this "game" before?—that all the people in the city, on the count of ten, should exit their homes, leave their positions in front of the parlor walls, and watch for Montag to help the authorities apprehend him. His heart is thrumming and his feet pounding the ground as he flees to escape observation and capture. On "Ten!" the doors to thousands of homes open.

He imagined thousands on thousands of faces peering into the yards, into alleys, and into the sky, faces hid by curtains, pale, night-frightened faces, like gray animals peering from electric caves, faces with gray colorless eyes, gray tongues, and gray thoughts looking out through the numb flesh of the face.

But he was at the river.

Montag jumps into the river, removes his clothes and puts on some of Faber's clothes from the suitcase the older man had given him. Then he pours whisky all over himself, takes a drink and even "snuffed some up his nose," so that the Mechanical Hound gets no whiff of Montag's scent. He dunks himself under the water as the helicopters' searchlights illuminate the river's surface, but soon they and the Hound are gone. The river carries Montag peacefully along.

As Montag floats, he thinks:

He was moving from an unreality that was frightening into a reality that was unreal because it was new.

As he moves along, Montag has the leisure to think of the past and consider what lies ahead. He must no longer be one that burns, but one that saves. Preservation had to be seen to—the saving and the keeping... books, in records, in people's heads, any way at all so long as it was safe, free from moths, silverfish, rust and dry-rot, and men with matches. 

The water draws Montag to the shore. At first he does not want to leave the peace of the river. He is haunted by images of society, with its helicopters and Mechanical Hounds, but eventually realizes that he has left all of that behind. After some whimsical reflection of how he would like to enter the world, spending the night in a hayloft in a barn somewhere, he moves to stand on land. The experience is so overwhelming that he panics, perceiving that there is "too much land."

Soon Montag calms himself and he begins to smell things from the distant past and to acclimate himself to the memories that come with the smells—a world Clarisse had hinted at, during a time that now seems to Montag a place from the far-distant past.

When he finds the railroad track, like the yellow-brick road, Montag looks to it as if it were a "magic charm," and he begins to follow where it leads—suddenly certain, without proof, that...

Once, long ago, Clarisse had walked here, where he was walking now. 

Soon he comes to a fire that is not lit to destroy, as has been his experience for so long, but to warm.

He had never thought in his life that [fire] could give as well as take.

He sees men gathered around the fire, warming their hands and talking. They have been watching the news, watching Montag's escape, expecting him. Upon his arrival, a man named Granger welcomes him, offers him coffee and they begin to converse.

This is the beginning of Montag's new life.