Dr. Stadler realizes that whether or not Galt relents, Stadler no longer has a place in Washington. To carve out a position of power for himself, he drives to the site of Project X, hoping to seize control of the weapon, but he is too late. Cuffy Meigs has already arrived with the same idea. As they fight over control of the weapon, the weapon is detonated, and the countryside is destroyed for hundreds of miles in all directions.
The Washington men are unnerved and desperate. Dr. Ferris convinces them to try torturing Galt. Dagny hears their decision and telephones Francisco. Just as she is about to leave to meet him, a panicked engineer rushes into her office and tells her that the Taggart Bridge has been destroyed in the Project X disaster. For the first time, she does not try to fix the problem. When she meets Francisco, she solemnly recites Galt’s oath to him. She is now on strike.
At the State Science Institute, Galt is tortured with a device called Project F, as Dr. Ferris, Wesley Mouch, and Jim Taggart look on. The device runs electrical currents through his body. Dr. Ferris tells him that he will not be allowed to leave the room until he provides a complete outline of the measures he intends to take as economic dictator. Galt endures the torture without speaking. When the machine breaks down, he tells the man operating it how to fix it. The operator realizes in horror what is happening and rushes out of the room. In his overwhelming desperation to see Galt destroyed, Jim finally realizes his true nature as a nihilist, and the knowledge is too much to bear. He screams and collapses.
The strikers—Dagny, Rearden, Francisco, and Danneskjold—rescue Galt in a dramatic gunfight. They climb aboard Francisco’s airplane, which has been waiting outside, and fly toward Colorado.
The locomotive of the Comet, eastbound from San Francisco, breaks down in the middle of a desert in Arizona. The conductor informs Eddie Willers that the engineer is working on the problem, but the look of resignation in his eyes implies that nothing can be done. Eddie is angry and frustrated. He had worked relentlessly to restore service. He is bitterly determined to hold on to the railroad and his faith in the world. When the crew and passengers are rescued by a caravan of covered wagons, Eddie refuses to desert the train.
With the complete collapse of the looters’ way of life, the residents of the valley are finally ready to return to the world and rebuild it according to their beliefs.
Stadler’s death in the Project X disaster is perfect justice. Through his denial of the mind, he has embraced its opposite—brute force. In the end, he is no better than the thug Cuffy Meigs, who is also hoping to use the weapon to rule others. The weapon itself is the manifestation of the enslaved mind. It represents Stadler’s mind, or more specifically, the science his mind produced, which has been harnessed to the machine’s evil purpose. Having lived by the enslavement of the mind, it is only proper that Stadler should die by it as well.
Until now, Dagny has been the last holdout among the industrialists. She has continued to believe that the looters are willing to see reality, at least in terms of their own survival. Now she understands that they are willing to sacrifice everything in order to avoid facing the world they have made. Although they desperately need Galt and the mind he represents, even to repair the machine they torture him with, still they will risk his life and even kill him. Such willingness shows they have come to embrace death. The strikers were right all along, and she must now withdraw her mind. Her refusal to help with the Taggart Bridge disaster is her resignation.
The belief system embodied in John Galt and the striking industrialists is intensely important to Rand, as evidenced by the near-religious imagery in the novel’s final scene. Galt’s gesture is a benediction as he blesses the valley and the world to which they return with his most sacred symbol—a dollar sign drawn in the air.