Thomasin is deeply shaken by the sudden death of her husband, Damon Wildeve, whatever his faults. She moves to Blooms-End, to live with Clym. Predictably, given his mournful demeanor and deep sensitivity, Clym is shattered by the death of his wife Eustacia. He withdraws deeply into himself, living in solitude in his half of the house. With the passage of time, Thomasin begins to recover from her sadness, and to take joy in her infant daughter. One summer, nearly two years after the tragic deaths of Damon and Eustacia, Diggory Venn makes his reappearance at the house. He no longer works as a reddleman, having bought the dairy that belonged to his father; consequently, he is no longer entirely red. He secures Thomasin's permission for the local people to set up a maypole near Blooms-End, although she does not join in the revelry. That evening, after the maypole dance is over, Thomasin finds Venn waiting for moonrise by the maypole, so that the light might enable him to find a glove that some girl has dropped. Thomasin, whose interest in Diggory is rising, wonders which local girl Diggory could be so concerned about as to wait hours to find her lost glove. She eventually discovers, however, that the glove was her own, dropped by her servant Rachel. When she sees Diggory one day while strolling with her daughter, she asks for the glove back, and they begin talking rather flirtatiously.
Clym, meanwhile, has become concerned that Thomasin's girlhood affection for him has rekindled. In obedience to his dead mother's wish, he resolves to ask Thomasin to marry him, even though his own capacity for love has been largely extinguished. Thomasin pre-empts him, however, by asking whether she should marry Diggory. Clym is surprised, and he is inclined to tell her not to marry, out of respect for Mrs. Yeobright's long-held belief that Diggory was not gentlemanly enough for Thomasin. Eventually, however, Thomasin convinces Clym that the marriage is less objectionable now that Diggory is no longer a reddleman, and the two become engaged.
The final chapter of the novel shows the local workers--Fairway, Christian Cantle, Sam and the others--stuffing a feather mattress as a gift for the newlyweds, who have a joyous wedding and celebration which Clym does not feel like attending. Instead he goes for a walk, and finds himself at Mistover Knapp, Eustacia's old home, where he meets Charley, the servant who developed a love for Eustacia. They return to Blooms-End together, and Clym gives Charley a lock of Eustacia's hair. Looking into the window of Thomasin's half of the house, Charley describes the party to Clym: the celebrants appear to be enjoying themselves, without a thought to Clym's absence.
Diggory and Thomasin depart for Diggory's home, and Clym is left alone in the house, where his mother's memory remains a tragic presence. He becomes an itinerant preacher, giving lectures to local peasants about moral subjects; his listeners have mixed feelings about his preaching, but as a tragic figure he is received with sympathy wherever he goes.
Given the tragedy that pervades the great majority of The Return of the Native, the novel's happy ending seems a bit jarring. And, indeed, the original plan for the novel did not call for the marriage with which Thomasin, the novel's most virtuous and perhaps least interesting character, is rewarded. In a footnote to the text, Hardy comments on the change; it is worth reprinting the entirety of the footnote:
The writer may state here than the original conception of the story did not design a marriage between Thomasin and Venn. He was to have retained his isolated and weird character to the last, and to have disappeared mysteriously from the heath, nobody knowing whither--Thomasin remaining a widow. But certain circumstances of serial publication led to a change of intent. Readers can therefore choose between the ending, and those with an austere artistic code can assume the more consistent conclusion to be the true one.