Denethor is reduced to even deeper madness, still trying to command a funeral pyre in which to kill himself and his wounded son Faramir. Beregond, who has been trying to stop the building of the pyre, has been called a traitor and Denethor is about to have him killed. Just in time, Gandalf comes and tries to talk sense into the deranged father and leader of his people.
Denethor is outraged at Gandalf, whom he mistakenly believes has not only stolen his son but now his servants too. He is upset that Aragorn will rule his people, though he knows this leadership is just and earned.
Denethor throws himself onto the pyre along with one of the palantir, or seeing stones. He kills himself. Gandalf carries Faramir's body to the house of healing. Eomer comes to Gandalf and tells him that all along it had been suspected that Denethor wrestled with the enemy in thought and has now finally succumbed.
The palantir has been Denethor's undoing. Just as Gollum becomes a pathetic character undone by his own evil transformation, so Denethor is a struggling tragic hero--a man who might have saved himself if he had known how to resist temptation.
Merry, Eowyn and Faramir are carried to the city of Gondor for healing. Denethor is dead, and so is Theoden.
Aragorn asks for the herb "athelas", also known as king's foil." The people of Gondor do not use this herb, but since it grows wild in the forest they retrieve it. Aragorn heals them all and the news spreads quickly, because prophecy has always foretold that the rightful king of Gondor possesses the art of healing.
In the morning Legolas, Gimli, Pippin and Merry are all united. Gimli tells them of Aragorn's deeds--how he allied himself with the king of the Dead in exchange for setting them free and how the servants of the Black Lord jumped over board and drowned or fled. Aragorn had then taken the mightiest ship as his own and he put up the flag of Isildur made especially by Arwen, daughter of Elrond. Aragorn then released the Dead from the curse and they vanished. After their departure, the troops gathered and set sail for Gondor.
Gandalf, meanwhile, has assembled the leaders of the armies. He tells the men that this victory is not the final victory. Gandalf says they must wage a battle so completely devastating that Sauron is distracted from watching Frodo, who is about to destroy the Ring. The leaders then discuss strategies and decide to march out on the second day with seven thousand men.
Though Gandalf and Aragon know that this number is too few against an army of the Black Lord, but they also know that the captain of the Nazgul has been slain and that Sauron's men are reeling from the unexpected defeat at Minas Tirith. They also know that he has not had time to gather forces, as they have. Even though their number is small, some of the men in their army are such that one man is worth more than a thousand. As the plot nears a climax, Tolkien pulls out all the stops for a dramatic offensive.
Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn, Gandalf and Pippin (commanding their troops) set off for war. Gandalf says that they should not go by the path that Frodo and Sam tread because that will draw unnecessary attention to them. Instead, they go by the entrance and set fire to the bridge and the fields, then depart.
As they travel closer to Sauron's land, many of the soldiers are visibly shaken. Aragorn, being the fair leader, allows the men to change their minds and loses about a thousand.
When the Lords of Gondor reach the Black Gate, they issue a challenge and are answered by a great rolling of drums. Out of the Black Gate comes an ambassador of Sauron. He speaks to Gandalf, saying that he has something of interest. To everyone's surprise he produces Frodo's cloak and elven broach, as well as his sword. He then tells them never to fight him again. He commands them to respect him as leader and never oppose him. If they do not agree, he claims he will torture Frodo.
As this Gandalf asks him to produce Frodo. Before the surprised ambassador can respond, Gandalf takes Frodo's things from him and rejects Sauron's demands. The messenger retreats and the battle begins.
Orcs and trolls larger than humans attack them. As the fighting intensifies, Beregond is thrown down by a troll who is about to bite off his throat. Pippin comes to his rescue and grabs the troll, who falls on top of him. The stench and weight of the beastly creature suffocate him and he thinks he hears eagles before he passes out.
Pippin's vision of eagles is a reference to Bilbo's adventures in The Hobbit, not (as he thinks) the result of being crushed by a troll.