Death Note (The Anime) Ending Explained

Spoilers for "Death Note" below.

Since airing in 2006, "Death Note" has become one of the most popular anime series in the world, spawning video games and live-action movies, including one on Netflix. The anime consists of 37 episodes adapted from Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata's manga series of the same name.

The thrilling series tells the story of Light Yagami, an ace Japanese high school student who becomes the owner of the Death Note — a mystical, supernatural notebook of sorts. It has pages over pages describing "Rules of the Death Note," and when these rules are followed correctly, the book allows the owner to commit a murder just by writing the victim's name and envisioning their face. It also allows the owner to decide the cause of death, and in the case of an unspecified reason, the victim dies of a heart attack.

Discovering the book leads Light to come up with a plan to rid the world of evil. He hopes to create a utopian world, one without any crime or criminals. From time to time, he is joined by the book's owner, god of death and harbinger of chaos, the Shinigami Ryuk, who gets bored by the Shinigami realm and travels to the human world. When Light's dream of a crime-free society begins to come true, the legendary detective L is ordered to investigate and apprehend him, leading to a prolonged battle of wits and psychological warfare. 

So, how does it end?

Light Goes Dark

Light Yagami's death at the end of "Death Note" shocked many fans.

When Light's rival, the renowned detective L Lawliet is defeated in "Silence" (the 25th episode), it made viewers wonder if Light will get out alive from the chaos he has created. Yet, in the finale "New World," Light's identity as Kira (a god-like alias he takes on during the criminal killing spree) is exposed by Near at the warehouse.

Light attempts to retrieve the piece of paper from the Death Note hiding in his watch so that he can write Near's name on it, but he is unexpectedly injured by Matsuda's string of bullets. The confrontation before the police squad doesn't go down as Light had planned, and he manages to escape after Mikami's suicide creates a diversion. He runs off and finds himself in an industrial area, his exhaustion forbidding him to run any further, and we then see Ryuk sitting atop a chimney. Matsuda may have injured Light with bullets, but it is the Shinigami Ryuk who takes his life.

While speaking to himself, the god of death reminds Light about the first promise he ever made to him — that he'd be the one to write Light's name in the Death Note. It's precisely what he does, and Light dies on a flight of stairs, 40 seconds later, from a heart attack.

Ryuk Was Pulling The Strings All Along

The impactful ending serves as a reminder that Light was only a tool employed by the bored Shinigami Ryuk, in his twisted game of violence. In many ways, Light's rise to power and his downfall were orchestrated by Ryuk, and he is in no way a bystander to the mayhem.

Ryuk dropped the Death Note into the human world simply because he was bored and began to play a game for his own fun. He may have visited Light repeatedly from the beginning, but they were never friends. Even at the end, Ryuk writes his name in the Death Note because he is well aware that Light will be going away to prison, and he refuses to wait until he dies naturally. 

Add to that the rule of the book, which states that the Shinigami must witness the death of a human who gains ownership of the Death Note (unless the god of death dies first), Ryuk decides to pull the plug on the madness and end it once and for all. It's a really poetic ending, showing that Light was so blinded by his illusions of power and grandeur that he forgot who made the rules in the first place.