Almost every Cold Case episode ends the same. The killer is caught and justice is done. One last time we see the victim's loved ones as they were before and where they are now. One last time we see the victim's spirit before they fade into eternity because life must go on.
Oh, Chuck. The series occasionally touched on some very dark themes, but things really took a turn for the bittersweet in the final two episodes of the show. At the very end, Sarah's memory is still damaged and it's unclear how much of it can, or will, be recovered. Optimists believe that the Magic Kiss worked and that they all lived Happily Ever After. Pessimists don't think it worked at all and that everything in Chuck is now something that the show's best character won't remember. Realists think that Sarah may eventually remember everything, but that memory and personality interact in some pretty complicated ways, so that doesn't necessarily mean that remembering everything will make her the Sarah that the audience knew. Wordof God says that they see the ending as a happy one, for what it's worth.
The final episode of the TV version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ends with Arthur and Ford discovering that the meaning of life is nonsensical. In addition, they're trapped five million years in Earth's past with no apparent way out of their situation. The radio and novel versions show that they get out of this predicament okay, but still... Every incarnation of The Hitchhiker's Guide thrives on either this trope, or Downer Endings.
While The A-Team was almost always a fun, lighthearted show, there were a few episodes that ended this way. The Sound of Thunder ends with Fullbright being killed just hours after finally becoming convinced that the team is innocent, and meeting the daughter he never knew he had, and Family Reunion: Face will have the chance to get to know his newly-discovered half-sister, but their father dies without even telling Face who he is (Face finds out from Murdock).
The ending to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine starts with the Federation officers most involved in the Dominion War refusing to toast their victory with General Martok, thanks to the loss of lives on both sides. It ends with most of the characters separated to start new lives and one of them dead (sort of). Even the Cardassians get a bittersweet ending, Garak in particular. While Garak is happy that Cardassia is now free of Dominion rule (and that he can return home), he notes that it had been devastated from the war, twisted under its occupation, and further ruined by the attempted genocide of its people. When Bashir tries to cheer him up by saying that they will rebuild, Garak angrily responds that, of course they will rebuild, but not as the Cardassia he knew. He succeded at freeing Cardassia and going home, but the home that he was banished from no longer existed. Pretty much everything about Deep Space Nine's finale was a bittersweet ending. The Dominion was defeated? Awesome, but hundreds of billions of people died on both sides. Sisko stopped Dukat once and for all and got to ascend to the level of a god? That's great, but now his wife and two children are on their own. Odo finally gets to return to his people and help them change from their murderous ways? Good news for him, but to do so he has to leave behind Kira, who he made pretty clear was the one thing that mattered to him more than returning home, with the added sting of Odo being one of the few people Kira was close to who hadn't died horribly by the end of the series. Then you've got Worf, O'Brien, and Rom leaving, and, well... the Dominion war may not have been a full-blown Pyrrhic victory for the Federation and their allies, but it wasn't really a happy one either.
The episode "The Quickening" certainly qualifies. Dr. Bashir encounters a planet whose population has been infected by the terminal "Quickening" virus and figures that his fancy equipment and magic potions will cure everyone in time for dinner. Unfortunately, not only do his potions not work on anyone, but his equipment starts making everyone die faster. Bashir is utterly heartbroken—and then a dying woman whom he had been caring for gives birth to a child free of the virus. This gives Bashir and the people a ray of hope—he can't cure the people infected with the virus, but he can spare the next generation from its curse.
Star Trek: Enterprise: The series ends with the knowledge that the Enterprise NX-01's mission was a resounding success, Captain Archer is virtually guaranteed a promotion to Admiral, and the Coalition of Planets is about to become official. But with all that, Archer has still lost his best buddy, Trip. And the Enterprise is still going to be decommissioned, ending the era for the ship his father built. Archer is still going to lose his prized beagle in one of the timelines. It's likely not Porthos, but still... Fan backlash to the finale was so strong that there are canonical implications in books that the holographic log Riker is watching is not historically accurate, but a cover story for a secret mission. In that version, Trip survives.
Star Trek: The Original Series has "Who Mourns For Adonais". After keeping the Enterprise crew trapped on his planet, insisting he be worshipped, Apollo realizes that his late cohorts (the other Greek gods) were right in that "There is no room for Gods" in the 23rd century. Thus, the last of the Olympian gods dissipates himself, joining his old comrades in oblivion. Kirk and company, while having saved themselves from Apollo's clutches and regained their autonomy, come to regret it, noting that the Greek gods inspired much of the culture, narrative traditions, and philosophy that still live on. Kirk muses about if it would have hurt just a little to "gather a few more laurel leaves?"
The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Legacy" ends with Ishara Yar's betrayal of the Enterprise crew to the Coalition, despite their initial welcoming attitude towards her based on the fact that she was the sister of the late beloved Tasha Yar. Although she feels remorse, there is little chance of reconciliation and Data realizes that he has discovered a new emotion: betrayal.
Every season of 24, to one extent or another. Jack thwarts the terrorists, but in the process, ends up losing more and more of himself to do it, and many heroic characters and innocent civilians end up dead. The series ultimately concludes in the same fashion: Jack Bauer and President Taylor both face grim futures because of several questionable acts they committed in the course of the day, and the peace Omar Hassan fought and died for doesn't come to pass and may never be. On the other hand, the graver injustice of a fraudulent peace is avoided, the heroes ultimately do the right thing, and the villains fail and get their comeuppances.
Every season/series of Misfits ends with this, usually with the fact that the misfits are still even alive being the sole sweet ending.
Series one ends with Curtis and Alisha happily together and both their distrustful antagonist and most dangerous foe dead. Nathan also finally discovers his power. Unfortunately, everyone believes he's dead, Simon has just killed the group's second probation worker, and Kelly's still grieving.
Series two ends horribly, with both Alisha's and Curtis's new lovers having died, Kelly and Nathan splitting up, and with all the misfits losing their powers and gaining new, lamer ones. However, Nathan, who's already flat broke, is in a cute relationship with a pregnant woman who's perfect for him. He then ends up in jail in Las Vegas. Simon's life, however, has made a turn for the better. He has a beautiful Italian girlfriend (Alisha), and owns his own flat
Series three ends with Alisha dead and Simon going back in time to save her (which will eventually lead to his own death, trapping him and her in a permanent time loop). Even Rudy states he doesn't know if he should feel happy that he's found love or sad that they'll both be trapped forever. Curtis replies "both", this being a Bittersweet Ending.
Midway through Series four, Curtis dies. The only woman Rudy's ever loved sacrifices herself for him. And basically, nothing has gone right for Finn. Alex has been stabbed in the lung, and Jess is worried about him. On the upside, Abbey seems to be getting some of her memory back, and needing a new lung, Alex might get a superpower. Also, he got back his dick, which is a HUGE win.
The second season of Waterloo Road. Every one of the villainous characters threatening the titular school has been dealt with. It remains open and not under the influence of Gerry Preston's Corrupt Church, and the people selling drugs outside the school have been arrested. Then right at the end, one of said drug dealers (out on bail) stabs a main character to death.
At the end of Choujinki Metalder, the main villain is defeated but at the cost of the main character never being able to return to his human form. In fact, he gets the worst of both worlds: He is unable to return to human form and loses his powers as Metalder.
Wizards of Waverly Place: "Wizards vs. Werewolves" ends with Mason being turned into a full wolf, Juliet becoming an old woman after losing her vampire powers, and Alex and Justin mourning over the loss of their loved ones. While some were unhappy with Juliet's death, most found this to be a satisfying ending that allowed them to go back to the more family-oriented storylines. At least for a little while.
The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Let's just say Amy and Ricky never got together, and she leaves both her son, Ricky and her family behind to pursue her "dream" in New York in the final episode. The last scene of that episode? Ricky reading to John a story and the last words were "And they all lived happily ever after". What the Hell, Hero?
Kamen Rider almost never has an unambiguously happy ending. Just to name a few:
Kamen Rider Black: Saved the world, killed the Big Bad. All seems well... except for the fact that the one thing the main character set out to do, save his step-brother, had not been accomplished. Not to mention his friends abandoned him and never returned, leaving Kotaro to go on with life without them.
Kamen Rider Kuuga: The Grongi are defeated, but Godai is so traumatized by his experiences that he can't stay in Japan, and leaves for a long trip around the world. His friends are heartbroken even though he promises he'll return some day (and in a tie-in novel released in 2013, Godai is missing in the present day and never did return.)
Kamen Rider Ryuki: Good news: The Rider War is stopped, everyone harmed by the mirror world restored. Bad news: Yui has to die, Asakura is restored too, and Kitoaka's illness will presumably kill him. Yui's aunt, all alone in the shop we know they once ran together, is a really sad moment of a sight even if she will presumably never know Yui was supposed to be there. None of the Rider War participants remember anything about the original timeline too. Kitaoka will likely never end up receiving the Character Development he did in the original timeline that allowed him to accept his death and gain something of personal responsibility. Meanwhile, Shinji and Ren remember nothing of their friendship in the original timeline, although it is hinted that there is some vague recognization from both parties of something having existed between them. All said and done, it's pretty telling that the last shot of the show focuses on a strangely sad photograph of the now-deceased Kanzaki siblings as children, smiling and happy at last.
Kamen Rider Faiz: Good news: The Orphenoch King is stopped for now. The bad news: Emphasis on "for now." He's still alive and Saeko is still tending to him. All this could start again in a week. This also means Teruo is probably gone for good. We didn't directly see Kiba die, but he almost certainly did. Also, Orphenochs still probably suffer from the reduced life span - bad news for the good ones.
Kamen Rider Blade: Kenzaki decides to sacrifice his humanity in order for his best friend to live as a human. However, as the End of the World could potentially occur if one or the other destroys each other, they have to separate, never being able to see each other again.
Kamen Rider OOO: Ankh sacrifices himself by giving Eiji his last three Medals to form the Tajadol combo and defeat Maki. However, he lives on as a spirit and accompanies Eiji (who does not know Ankh is there) as Eiji returns to Walking the Earth. The crossover movie with Kamen Rider Fourze reveals that Ankh's medal would be repaired sometime in the future.
Kamen Rider Wizard: Koyomi died, but Haruto is able to reach inside Gremlin where Koyomi's spirit gives him the Hope Ring and enables him to destroy Gremlin with it. As everyone returns to their lives, Haruto goes to find some distant safe place to leave the Hope Ring so that it can't be used, and fulfil Koyomi's wish to rest in peace. The crossover movie with Kamen Rider Gaim has the Hope Ring stolen from him and used against him, but he's able to truly allow Koyomi to rest in peace.
Kamen Rider Gaim: Kouta kills Kaito in a battle to the death and takes the fruit, becoming the "Man of the Beginning." Rather than destroy earth, he and Mai take Helheim with them and ascend to a barren planet on the edge of the universe to create their own world; but they'll never see their friends or family again. Sagara creates a new fruit for another species to fight over, and will continue the cycle forever more. Takatora has been found alive but is in a coma; Kouta is able to enter his consciousness to speak to him, and Takatora agrees to return to the world of the living to teach Mitsuzane that it's not too late to change things. Seven months later, the world is recovering slowly and the city's dancers are now performing as a group, without Mitsuzane who is too ashamed to join them. He and Kouta reunite one last time for a battle against Kougane, the villain of The Movie, before Kouta returns to his own world and Mitsuzane finally reconciles with his friends. The tree at the shrine where Mai's father was a priest has reappeared, and Kaito is now a spirit there. Mai appears to him as they watch children dancing there, and reassures him that humanity will learn from their mistakes. She and Kouta return to their planet which is now blooming and full of life.
Choushinsei Flashman - The Flashmen have ended Mess' reign of terror, and Sara finds her real family. However, they have to leave Earth and return to the Flash solar system or risk losing their lives to the Anti-Flash Phenomenon.
Hikari Sentai Maskman - Peace has been restored to the earth, but Takeru and Mio/Iyal cannot be together because she has become the queen of Tube and is forbidden to have a relationship with a human.
Choujin Sentai Jetman - In a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, Gai is a successful businessman, Raita is happily married, Ako has achieved her dream of becoming an Idol Singer and the characters go to the wedding of Ryuu and Kaori. Everyone's happy - and then Gai is knifed by a bandit on his way to the ceremony. He does make it in time to see his friends, but collapses and presumably dies. Fan opinion is divided on whether or not he's really dead but a tie-in manga sequel and Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger both confirmed that Toei does consider Gai dead.
Gekisou Sentai Carranger - The team has defeated the Big Bad, and the rest of the Bowzock have reformed. However, Zonnette/Vanity-Mirror Fanbelt, Kyosuke/RedRacer's girlfriend must return to her homeworld (a nod to the aforementioned Maskman), as well as Signalman and Dappu.
Mirai Sentai Timeranger - Naoto/TimeFire is killed. Eventually, Tatsuya decides he must send the other Rangers back to the year 3000, forever separating him from his friends and his love Yuuri. When they return, they find that the events of the show have altered their timelines: Yuuri's family are still alive, Domon's ban from the ring became a one-year suspension which is now over, and a cure has been found for Ayase's terminal illness. However, nothing has changed for Sion, whose planet is still destroyed.
Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger - Mikoto/AbareKiller is dead and Asuka and Mahoro return to Dino Earth, vowing that they will name their new baby after him. Some time later, there is a reunion of the show's True Companions, with the missing Mikoto, Rijewel, Asuka and Mahoro replaced by identical-looking customers who just happen to wander into Dino Curry at the right moment.
Juken Sentai Gekiranger - Rio finally admits that he loves Mele, just as the two are killed. Long has been sealed away, but that's the best our heroes can do - he can't truly be destroyed. Jan returns to Walking the Earth to teach children the ways of Juken. While in Hong Kong, he meets a young boy whom he recognizes to be a reincarnation of Rio, and promises him they'll have a re-match some day.
Tensou Sentai Goseiger - The Goseigers obtain permission to stay on earth and follow their dreams there, but Nozomu is heartbroken when he discovers they will be leaving him. Alata reassures him they will be friends forever, and that the Gosei Angels will be watching over him. Some time later, Nozomu is looking at the apple seeds he planted with Alata when a white feather lands upon him, showing that Alata is looking out for him after all.
Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters - Beet Buster has been sacrificed to remove the Messiah card from Hiromu, but everyone else survives and J is learning to live without his partner.
Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger - In season two, the three Akibarangers have been killed (due to a final battle they forgot that would happen after they beat Prism Ace). However, at the end of the final clip show/recap episode, they appear as spirits along with other dead Sentai warriors; and state that one day the scriptwriters may find a way to bring them back.
Episode five of the first season also has a Bittersweet Ending. In the episode, the Akibarangers meet Yumeria's mother (who is basically an older version of her daughter), and warm to her instantly and she even fights alongside them. At the end of the episode, they discover that she had died some time ago and is another of Yumeria's delusions.
Power Rangers in Space. The Rangers fail. Push comes to shove, the United Alliance of Evil attacks in full force, and the Rangers lose. Good triumphs, yes, but only because The Dragon stabbed the Big Bad in the back with a planetbuster missile, and the father figure Zordon kills himself to cause a Deus ex Machina and take out the army. The enemy may have fallen, but the Rangers failed, Zordon died to make up for it, and they know it.
Power Rangers RPM. The Rangers beat Venjix or so they think, and the Robot War is finally over, with humanity having won. Except... now the Rangers have to go back to their ordinary lives, something that they don't want to do. Oh yeah, and there's still that "most of humanity is dead, and the entire planet outside Corinth is a mildly radioactive wasteland with the entire ecosystem gone" problem. It's shown that the ecosystem is likely to recover.note although it'll take thousands of years for species diversity to recover and fill a lot of niches, and most of the known species, particularly the photogenic mammals, are probably done for After 16 years of this show, the most dangerous villain in the entire series may have gotten away with no one realizing it. 16 years. The show that began with a Sealed Evil in a Can leaves us right where we started at the end... but this time, as stated before, most of the global population is dead.
Power Rangers Samurai. Big Bad Xandred has fallen, but it's quite possible that the Nighlok might indeed return. In addition, the sympathetic Dayu and Deker are dead, and the team (including Jayden's estranged older sister) dissolves.
The ending of the new Battlestar Galactica episode "Revelations." The good news: the fleet, including their new Cylon allies, finds Earth. The bad news: it looks like a bombed-out wasteland. Dayamn.
Also the ending of episode 3.04, "Exodus, Part 2". Whilst humanity is rescued from New Caprica, Colonel Tigh loses his eye and his wife, and is left alone and despairing as Bill Adama is being celebrated. Adama: "You did it, Saul. You brought them back." Tigh: "Not all of them."
Plus, the Galactica is saved from near-destruction, but at the cost of the advanced battlestar Pegasus. As the series draws to its conclusion, the Bucket has begun to fall apart partly as a result of the horrendous punishment she took at New Caprica, aggravated by recent events.
Played much straighter in the series finale. The fleet has managed to successfully rescue Hera Agathon, defeated Cavil's forces and have finally found a new home (our Earth, essentialy). Meanwhile, the Centurions are freed and it is implied that they find a destiny free from the cycle of violence. However, many people have died in the process, including Kara (who was revealed to be Dead All Along), Boomer (who achieved redemption at the cost of her life) Laura Roslin (whose cancer finally does her in, leaving Adama lonely), and Anders (who is about to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence with Kara).
And with Dee's suicide, Kara's ascending, Laura's death and Adama's decision to just leave everything, Lee Adama has effectively lost everyone he was ever close too, for the second time in half a decade.
And then there's Galen Tyrol. After everything that's happened to him (discovering his ex-girlfriend is a Cylon, discovering he's a Cylon, his wife getting murdered, and getting emotionally manipulated through the years, he becomes sick of people and becomes an Ineffectual Loner who leaves to live up on an island up north. What happens to Galen Tyrol results in a very amusing speculation. He's a Cylon, so probably very long lived. He is going to become a hermit on an "Island Up North." He's extremely intelligent, a survivor, and a master engineer. His memories are of a highly technological and advanced world, so that, in a way, he remembers the future. Add to that Clarke's observation that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Sound familiar? That's right. Perhaps somewhere along the line he picks up the nickname "Merlin" ... which, of course, leads right to another bittersweet ending.
Quantum Leap: Five words: "Sam Beckett never returned home." The "sweet" part comes from Al being a happily-married man, and from Sam doing what he subconsciously wanted to do all along. The "bitter" part involves Al never meeting Sam, and Sam's wife never getting her husband back.
Psych Several episodes end this way, specifically the episodes with the Yin/Yang killers
"An Evening With Mr. Yang" Shawn manages to save his mother and aid in capturing Yang and even gets the girl (former highschool sweetheart, Abigail) only to finally have his love interest, Juliet O'Hara, ask him out. He turns her down as he was on a date with Abigail at the time.
"Mr. Yin Presents" While victims are rescued, the characters also have to deal with the death of a recurring character and Shawn is dumped by Abigail.
Doctor Who finales are almost always this, as are the episodes. It's the Trope Namer for Everybody Lives specifically because there's a terrible cost the other 99% of the time. (Series Five/Season 31/Series Fnarg bucked the trend; but then, it was written by the guy who gave us Everybody Lives.)
New series, season 1 finale: The last Dalek fleet is blown to dust, but Earth has suffered casualties maybe in the millions, and the Doctor has to die/regenerate to save Rose from her own power. Meanwhile Jack is abandoned on the space station. And much (like try a couple of centuries) later? We find out that The Doctor left him behind deliberately because he can't stand to look at what Jack had become.
Season 2: The walls between universes are repaired, Jackie is reunited with an alternate-universe iteration of her lost husband, and the armies of Cybermen and the Dalek Ark are destroyed, but Rose is permanently separated from the Doctor and London has once again sustained a massacre.
Season 3: The conquest of Earth is temporally reversed, the Doctor is saved, and Martha has become a Bad Ass of legend, but The Master is dead, leaving the Doctor alone again as the last of the Time Lords, and Martha quits her Companionship rather than pine after the Doctor (presumably not without some trauma from having witnessed the Master's subjugation of Earth first-hand).
Season 4: Donna might have saved the world, but she can't be allowed to remember any of it or she'll die. All that Character Development, all that belief in herself? All gone. The Doctor abandons his Children of Time to live their own lives, leaving him alone with lots of angst. Rose has her own version of the Doctor, but his ability to live a mortal life is uncertain and there is no guarantee he and Rose will have a lasting love. Huh? The Doctor says "One heart, one life." Now, he's not guaranteeing they're going to be married fifty years, but it's definitely implied that 10.2 will have a single mortal lifespan and that he and Rose will stay together. Still a downer for the "real" Doctor, though. The Doctor is a time traveller. He has seen humanity develop and grow from the Adam and Eve Plot beginnings to the universe collapsing into itself and he's been to every planet in the galaxy. Sarah-Jane Smith had to adjust to a normal life after only three years of living like that. If you've never known anything else, could you just settle down in Suburbia and forget about everything you've seen and done throughout the universe? While most season finales in the new series have ended with something to lighten the mood and lead into their corresponding Christmas Special, season four ends with the Doctor, soaked and alone, staring at the control panel in the TARDIS. Cut to credits.
"The End of Time" has Earth saved from the Master's bio-template, the horrors of the Time War sent back into their lock, and a startlingly low bodycount. Then he knocks four times and the Doctor has to take a fatal dose of radiation to save someone from a mundane failure of engineering forethought, says a final goodbye to all of the new-series companions, and dies in a fiery cataclysm of regeneration. Also, the Time Lords in their final days went Ax-Crazy, and even if they could be rescued from the timelock, were planning to mercy-kill the universe. It's also implied that the 'mercy' part of 'mercy-kill' is also inaccurate. "The End of Time" changed the way that Wilf (and the audience) thought of regeneration. The transition to a new Doctor is always jarring to the audience, but at least we could take comfort in the fact that it's just a normal part of life for our favourite Time Lord. Well, not quite. 10's last words? "I don't want to go."
You shouldn't think only the New Series has this. The Daleks Master Plan may end with the destruction of the Daleks about to attack Earth, however in the process Sara Kingdom was killed. Not only that but Katarina and Bret Vyon were killed during the story. It ends with Steven mentioning the deceased and the Doctor saying 'What a waste. What a terrible waste.'
The Aztecs has the TARDIS crew succeed in returning to the TARDIS. However Barbara was unable to change Aztec History and the High Priest Tlotoxl remains in control and is able to perform human sacrifices. The only lasting impact is that Autloc has decided to exile himself from Aztec Society to meditate on his faith.
Series 8 ends with Missy's (aka the Master) plan to prove she and her old friend the Doctor are Not So Different foiled when he gives the Cyber-converted Danny Pink control of the Cyberman army of the dead; Pink leads most all of the army to a Heroic Sacrifice that saves the living of Earth. That's about the only sunshine, though: The Doctor almost has to kill Missy before the Cyber-Brigadier zaps her instead, his UNIT friend Osgood was slain by Missy, the coordinates Missy gives the Doctor lead not to his lost homeworld of Gallifrey but empty space, Clara is left bereft when Danny sacrifices his one chance to return to her in favor of giving the boy he killed in Afganistan a second chance at life, and the dead rising from their graves undoubtedly left a mess for Earth. And Clara and the Doctor each believe the other is happy, so they lie to each other and part ways. However, The Stinger of the episode reveals Santa Claus will help fix that last part in the Christmas Episode that follows, and Series 9 reveals that both Missy and an Osgood are still alive and kicking.
Series 9: Having become a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds to undo the death of his Living Emotional Crutch Clara, the Doctor realizes they must be parted forever for the safety of the universe and loses not only her but most of his memories of her. He has found Gallifrey only to become a fugitive from it once more, having lied, stolen, and even killed (luckily the General has two lives left) for the sake of that Tragic Dream; his fellow Time Lords and his confidante Ohila may or may not forgive him. He deposed Rassilon and his cronies; will they seek Revenge? But he is his best self again...and though he doesn't know it, the now-functionally immortal Clara is using the second stolen TARDIS to travel the universe with Ashildr (fulfilling the latter's dream at last) before she returns to Gallifrey and her death.
"The Husbands of River Song": The Twelfth Doctor and River Song end up crash-landing on Darillium, which he knows will be the site of their last night together before Ten meets and loses her forever in "Silence of the Library"/"Forest of the Dead". Worse, it turns out that River has heard stories that their next meeting will be their last, and he sadly tells her that he can't confirm or deny them, much less change what is to happen. But having learned to accept loss at last in the wake of the Series 9 finale, Twelve will be the "Sweetie" River hungered for all those years, the lover his previous selves were not, making the most of this last night...a night that, as it happens, will last twenty-four happy years.
Especially Season 8. The group manages to win the day and avert the apocolypse once more. But Giles is dead due to Buffy's hesitation. All magic is gone with the destruction of the seed, meaning Willow is de-powered. All slayers are viewed as terrorists thanks to much idiocy of a few rogue slayers, who squarely put the blame on Buffy. While vampires are accepted by society. On the upside, Faith takes Angel in to rehabilitate him and Buffy, despite everything thats happened, continues to fight the good fight.
Season 9 is another example, but is at least better than Season 8. Buffy manages to kill Simone in the final battle, a new magic seed is created meaning magic is back in the world and Dawn is restored to life. However this has an odd effect on vampires who can now walk in the sunlight and shapeshift. What's more the book they used to create the seed has a blank page, meaning there's no new information to what's going on. A complete blank slate.
Life On Mars (the British version) technically possesses a downer ending, as it ends with Sam committing suicide by jumping off a roof. However, as this also enables him to save the lives of his friends in 1973, get the girl and drive off into the sunset, in another sense, it's quite a happy one as well. But not for his mum, who is all alone yet again, or all the people who might have been glad that he was back.
The spin-off to Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, ends with the principal characters (except for Gene Hunt, who stays behind to help others cross over) accepting their deaths and moving on to an afterlife, but this means that Alex Drake will never see her daughter again.
The ending of Merlin (1998) fulfills every single one of the above criteria, except for the villain escaping bit, with such highlights as Merlin losing everyone he loved, passing into obscurity and eventually becoming a beggar who tells stories for money, the true king and wielder of Excalibur dead, and his love interest being trapped forever. Even the destruction of Mab and the Old Ways isn't much of a victory, given that it results in the death of Magic and all the magical peoples that Mab was trying to save with the exception of Frik and the Rock of Ages. However, the time of darkness comes to an end at last in the epilogue. It is made somewhat less bittersweet in the last few scenes, where it is revealed that Nimue is still alive and was released from Mab's spells, and Merlin uses the last of his magic to restore their youth so that they can finally live out their lives together.
The direct-to-video sequel brings back Merlin... only to kill him.
Friends: All the characters end the series happily: Monica and Chandler have their children, Ross and Rachel are back together, Joey's a TV star and Phoebe is married. But with that also comes the groups separation: Monica and Chandler are moving to the suburbs, Joey's going to L.A and Phoebe's living with her husband. It's the start of a new era, and while that's great it doesn't change the fact that the True Companions are leaving their lives behind and things will never be the same again.
Andromeda ends with them saving the universe... but not before Earth explodes.
The second season ends with John being released from hell and they finally kill the demon that started all the trouble. But Dean is going to hell, Sam may be negatively affected by his resurrection, and there are now over 200 demons to deal with.
The fifth season takes Bittersweet Ending even further. Sam, holding Lucifer inside him, drags the Archangel Michael with him into Lucifer's prison, sacrificing himself to seal the two and prevent Armageddon. Dean goes to live with Lisa and Ben, Castiel takes over Heaven..and we see Sam watching Lisa's house at the very end...
M*A*S*H: The war is over and everyone is going home. On the other hand, besides the emotional scars from their time in a war zone, Father Mulcahy is going deaf and the main cast realize they will probably never see each other again.
The ending of Volume Three for Heroes. Sure, the world was saved (again) and Sylar was defeated (again) (or so we are made to think (again)), but Claire's biological mother Meredith is killed and Nathan approaches the US Government for help in rounding up everybody with powers.
The ending of Runaway. Sean is reunited with his family which despite still being broken, he knows it is where he belongs. And thanks to Gary (his mother's boyfriend) the boy who bullies him at school won't be bothering him anymore. However, Molly is still out on the streets alone, her dreams of finding her home and family completely destroyed.
Rome has this in spades at the end of the second season, which is admittedly a step up from the full on Downer Ending in the first season. Octavian is finally in power, the wars are at an end, Pullo is reunited with his son and life on the Aventine appears to be stabilizing...but Lucius Vorenus is dead. Word of God has it that Pullo was lying and Vorenus lives, or will if the movie is made.
The season three finale became a prime example of bittersweet. The 815 survivors are celebrating "being rescued" and gaining a huge victory over their "enemies", the Others. The cost, of course, is that unknown to almost everyone at the time Charlie bites the big one. Not to mention, the ending of the episode reveals that some of the characters suffered from depression and regret after returning to civilization.
The end became this as well. The Man in Black is defeated and eight people make it off the island in the end (only four of them survivors of the original crash) Jack ensures their escape and saves the island at the cost of his own death; Hurley and Ben live but stay behind as the island's new protectors, and everyone else by this point is already dead. Made a little less bitter with the knowledge that they all meet up in some kind of afterlife later.
The ending of Torchwood: Children Of Earth. The 456 have been defeated, the Prime Minister's role is about to be exposed and Gwen and Rhys are expecting a baby. But Captain Jack's grandson and Ianto are now dead, his daughter wants nothing more to do with him and at the end he decides to leave Earth.
For example, in "Throne For A Loss" though the heroes save the day, the Tavlek mercenary that Zhaan was trying to rehabilitate goes straight back to drugs the moment he leaves Moya.
At the end of "That Old Black Magic," Crichton and Zhaan manage to defeat Maldis. Unfortunately, Crichton failed to talk Crais out of his Roaring Rampage of Revenge, and Zhaan is now dangerously close to giving in to her dark and selfish impulses- And considering that the next episode was "DNA Mad Scientist," in which Zhaan eagerly helped D'Argo and Rygel hack off one of Pilot's arms...
The end of the "Liars, Guns And Money" trilogy: the crew is now officially rich thanks to the raid on the Shadow Depository, and they've managed to save Jothee from Scorpius in the process. Unfortunately, Moya is suffering from crippling injuries; only one out of the five mercenaries survived (though he promises to deliver his dead partners' shares to their families); finally, Crichton is suffering a Split Personality Takeover and begging D'Argo to kill him.
In "Eat Me," though Kaarvok dies when Rovhu explodes, and Rovhu's tormented pilot is finally put out of his misery, the two Crichtons are now trying to decide which of them is real. Plus, Talyn has been reunited with Moya- but he and Crais have been terribly injured in a battle with someone or something that may still be hunting for them.
The end of the "We're So Screwed" trilogy seems so hopeful at first: the Scarrans have been dealt a blow that will eventually force them to leave the region, Captain Braca has had Grayza removed from her command and saved the lives of his crew in the process, D'Argo and Chiana have managed to rekindle their relationship, and Scorpius and Sikozu appear to have fallen in love. However, Crichton is clearly unhappy at having to use a nuclear weapon to achieve his ends, wondering what he might be forced to do next time; worse still, the Scarrans are planning an invasion of Earth thanks to a minute slip of the tongue on Crichton's part.
Then you have the Peacekeeper Wars mini-series, meant to tie up loose ends in the show. It ends with Crichton and Aeryn naming their baby. Also, the Scarran-Peacekeeper War is over, at the cost of thousands of lives, including Jool and D'Argo. There's also a follow-up comic, which has Rygel regaining his throne... but Scorpy is back to his old tricks and has taken an interest in Crichton Jr.
One episode had the heroes manages to free a group of Unas from slavery, only to realize that they have inadvertently started a civil war.
The end of Season 5 was very bad. Yes, the Kelownans have been saved, Daniel has ascended and is still sort of "around" (the broken ventilation shaft), Jonas has been granted asylum at the SGC, and SG-1 is starting to move on after Daniel's "death", but at the same time the Kelownans are probably going to go do exactly what Daniel just saved them from, Jonas can never go home (as far as we know), and Daniel's still gone.
The Season 4 episode "Serpent's Venom". In that episode, while Teal'c manages to escape a Goa'uld ship he was held captive on (as well as convincing a Mook to defect) the plan to start an Enemy Civil War fails spectacularly and instead of having the two biggest System Lords engage in a costly war, the Big Bad Apophis kills the biggest obstacle to his conquest of the Goa'uld System Lords and absorbs his forces, becoming a bigger threat than ever thanks to SG-1.
Besides also being a cliffhanger, the end of The 4400. Most of the heroes are safe, the Virus has been stopped, and the Marked have been defeated (we think), but Susan and Danny Farrell both died, along with thousands of other people. Isabelle was killed trying to save Jordan, who took over Seattle and apparently has no intention of giving it back. Shawn has no idea what to do now, especially after killing his brother. Diana's just found out that her daughter sympathizes with people she thinks are terrorists. Countless p-s are going to have to adjust to life with their new abilities. And we don't know whether Tom will take promicin or not.
The 2005 Casanova serial ends with Casanova dying under the illusion that the one love of his life is still alive and coming to be with him. However, we learn from a letter that the elusive Henriette never stopped trying to find him all those years and did always love him, despite being married to another man. Add to that the closing shot of a young Casanova and Henriette dancing through the empty streets of Venice, and it looks less and less like Did Not Get the Girl really applies.
The The X-Files certainly ends on bittersweet note; Mulder and Scully, who had been separated for over a year, are reunited, but at a cost. Mulder only escapes execution by breaking out of jail (with help of his superiors), but he and Scully are fugitives from the law. On top of that, Mulder finally learns the depressing truth (the conspiracy is still very active and they've just learned that the aliens have plans for a massive invasion in 2012 leaving Mulder with a devastating feeling of defeat hanging over him). The long-anticipated child born to the couple at the end of the previous season was given up for adoption for his own safety. The upside? He and Scully have each other, she tells him she knows he will never give up and makes him feel that his pursuits were worthwhile because he opened her eyes and made her a believer. Mulder's last words to close out the show: "Maybe there's hope."
Little House on the Prairie, the town of Walnut Grove is bought out by a scheming, corrupt railroad tycoon. Rather than hand over their town, the citizens of Walnut Grove defiantly demolish all of their homes, robbing the tycoon of his prize. This act also inspires the neighboring towns to threaten the same thing if they are bought out as well and the people of Walnut Grove take comfort in the fact that the sacrifice of their town was not in vain.
Horatio Hornblower, the episode "Retribution": Horatio and co have taken many prisoners and prize ships, they narrowly averted disaster multiple times, and Horatio's name has been cleared of mutiny charges and he is even promoted. However Archie Kennedy, his best friend of many years, dies of wounds received in battle, having confessed to mutiny in order to save Horatio. Horatio's face in the final scene looks like he's struggling between being heartbroken and being grateful.
Merlin: It was clear from the beginning thanks to the Foregone Conclusion. We knew that Arthur would become King with Gwen as his wife and Merlin as his most trusted advisor, but they would still have lost Morgana to evil, Arthur would one day be slain by Mordred, and there would always be the shadow of Lancelot lingering over the Official Couple... Merlin and Arthur succeeded in building the great kingdom of Albion, though Arthur never lived to see it. Kilgarrah tells Merlin that one day Arthur will return, when Albion is in its time of greatest need. Many, many years later, in the present day, Merlin is still wandering the earth as an immortal old man. With everyone he knew - Gaius, Gwen, the dragons - long dead, and knowing that the same will continue to happen throughout history as he waits for the day that Arthur will return. Thankfully, everything the Dragon had said throughout the entire series about prophecy and the future did eventually come to pass, which means that Merlin's wait will not be in vain - however long it may be.
The first season of In Treatment ends with a mix of good and bad consequences. Sophie and Laura have made breakthroughs and have left treatment with Paul as happier, healthier people, while Paul stopped himself from making a mistake with Laura. However, his marriage to Kate is marriage is effectively over, as is Jake and Amy's, and Alex's possible suicide is still on his conscience.
The Thorn Birds: Justine and Meggie have finally reconciled, as have Meggie and her mother Fee. Justine and her lover Rainer have also reconciled and are leaving Australia to start their life together. But Father Ralph dies in Meggie's arms, forever remorseful that he never had a proper relationship with her or their son (who also died recently without every knowing Ralph was his father).
House: Bittersweet endings were common on House in its episodes, and the finale was a major case of the bittersweet.
The most common varieties in episodes were the one in which the patient had to choose between taking the cure and compromising another aspect of their health or lifestyle (eg. losing a limb) or forgoing it in favor of whatever they stood to lose and the one in which the diagnosis revealed something about the patient that their family, friends, partner and sometimes the patient themselves didn't know, which changed their life for the worse.
The series ends on one of these: Wilson has five months to live, and House has been told he must spend that time completing his prison sentence. House fakes his own death so that everyone who knew or cared about him except Wilson and Foreman thinks he's dead, he can never be a doctor again, and he'll have to be in hiding for the rest of his life or go to prison for years, but he gets to be with Wilson for those final 5 months and realizes he's capable of change.
The miniseries Hatfields & McCoys mirrors history in how miserable everyone ends up once the feud is over. Randall McCoy lost six children during the feud and his wife went insane with grief. Devil Anse Hatfield lost two brothers and an uncle and his eldest son left the state and he will not see him for another ten years. Johnse Hatfield survived the feud but the love of his life and their child are dead, his wife has betrayed him and when he returns home ten years later he is arrested and imprisoned. Wall Hatfield tried to stop the feud and ends up dying in prison. Frank Phillips got a book published about his exploits during the feud and was fairly successful but then one day he got violently drunk and pulled a gun on his best friend who was forced to shoot Frank dead. However, despite all this misery the killing is over and the descendants of the participants will be able to move on and make peace.
Most episodes of Miami Vice tend to be like this or a Downer Ending. This was one of the first cop shows where the good guys didn't always win, or if they did there was a high price to pay.
Season 1; The New Directions come last place in regionals and are utterly humiliated. On the up-side however, it's revealed that Sue Sylvester- the arch enemy of the glee club- thought they were the best show choir group and voted for them. Not to mention whilst the glee club was originally going to be discontinued in Junior year (I.E season two), Sue made sure they got a second year for free, which was a definite consolation prize for Rachel and Co. On another sunny note (assuming you ship Finchel), Finn and Rachel have finally sorted out their relationship problems and are a official couple. It doesn't last long. Queue Wangst. On the downside, (Again, assuming you ship a certain couple) Emma rejects Will and says she's seeing her dentist, leaving him disappointed and a little embarrassed.
Season 2: The New Directions fail to even make the top 10 at Nationals, most likely due to the humiliating Big Damn Kiss between Finn and Rachel on stage, which lead to their downfall. It was later revealed that the slip-up was put on YouTube, making ND the Butt Monkey of show choir and a national laughing stock. On the upside however, Finchel fans were pleased when Finn and Rachel got back together (again) and are now a happy couple. Also on the more optimistic scale of things, Brittany and Santana finally make up and become best friends again, and say that no matter what ends up happening with their relationship they will always love each other and accept one-another for who they are. Kurt says that even though the championship has tarnished ND's reputation, he's still glad he participated because they all got to go to New York and have a fun time which is award enough for them all.
Season 3: Well, New Directionals have won nationals! Will won teacher of the year award! Puck is passing Senior year after all! After all her whining Rachel got into NYADA! ...Rachel was also dumped by her fiance without warning and forced onto a train to New York...And it looks like no one else is going with her, because Kurt didn't get into NYADA and Finn failed to get admission to his New York acting school. And Brittany isn't even graduating, and has to retake senior year, which is tragic enough on without getting into the implications of her relationship with Santana, who is going half-way across the country, foreshadowing a possible breakup. Then again, it looks like Quinn is finally back to where she was at the start of season 1; she's regained her dignity, good reputation, grades and is off to the school of her dreams. Pretty mixed, all in all.
Dave had this regarding his character arc. In Season 1 he was one of Those Two Bad Guys with fellow bully Azimio. In Season 2 he forced himself onto Kurt and spent the rest of the year battling his gayngst. Come Season 3, he transferred schools to avoid being outed, but Sebastian cruelly rejected his advances, Kurt ignored him after the two decided to be friends, and Dave was outed at his new school, causing him to attempt suicide in what was considered by many to be the show's darkest moment. When we last saw Dave, he was recuperating in the hospital with Kurt telling him that his life will one day get better. Still, at that point in time his parents and best friend Azimio were rejecting, and he was still attending the high school where he was an outcast. The only positives were a second chance at life and the hope to one day be free from small-town ignorance.
As of season 6, Dave is happy, out, and a very different person.
Last Resort: Captain Marcus Chaplin goes down with his ship in a Heroic Sacrifice designed to keep the sub from falling into Chinese hands and it seems likely that Kylie Sinclair and Admiral Shepherd are dead, but the truth comes out, most of the sub's crew returns home, James seems to find peace with Tani, and Kendall is reunited with the wife he believed dead.
The Wonder Years: Life goes on for Kevin Arnold after graduating high school, and the off-screen narrator (an adult Kevin voiced by David Stern) reveals that Kevin becomes a writer, Paul goes to Harvard and Wayne takes over the family business. However, it's also revealed that Kevin's father Jack dies not too much later, and that Kevin and longtime love Winnie Cooper do not end up together in the end, Kevin having married someone else, but they stayed friends.
Skins did this with the Skins: Fire arc of its final series. Effy is sent to jail for insider trading, though she got a reduced sentence by striking a plea deal to inform on her boss, and her smile indicates that she will be okay in the end. Naomi is dying from terminal cancer, but at least she reconciled with Emily and can die peacefully with Emily beside her.
Breaking Bad: Walt is dead, his family has completely disowned him, and the world knows that he's Heisenberg... But he died on his own terms, effectively eradicated Blue Sky, he's managed to redeem himself (partially) by rescuing Jesse from the Aryans, Jesse passes up a chance to kill him (indicating that he's earned his forgiveness), and there's a good chance that he'll manage to get his money to his children with Gretchen and Elliot's help. He gives Skyler the coordinates to Hank and Steve's bodies ensuring that they'll have a proper burial, and Skyler may be able to get the feds off her back in exchange for the information. And Todd, Jack, Lydia and the Aryans have all gotten their just comeuppance.
The series also ends on a bittersweet note for the supporting Jesse: he's free from Walt, the Nazis, and the entire meth industry, and probably won't be prosecuted since the police think Walt was the Blue Sky cook all along. But he has NOTHING to show for the living hell Walt and Todd put him through, and may actually be coming out behind since working for Walt frayed his relationship with Badger and Skinny Pete, and he can barely live with himself after what happened to Gale and Andrea.
Due South: The last few minutes of the final episode, when Fraser tells of what happened to those whom he considered as friends as he starts a happy ending with Ray Kowalski. Fraser's voiceover is hated by some fans, who think that all of the characters except for Fraser and Kowalski DIDN'T get happy endings.
Fringe concludes in this manner. The Observers and all the other villains have been defeated for good, the shapeshifters have been wiped out, time has been altered so that the Observers will never conquer humanity, the two universes have been stabilized, and Peter and Olivia will be able to live out their lives happily with their daughter. But September, Sam Weiss, and Nina Sharp are dead and Walter and Michael had to go through the wormhole, meaning they'll never see the others again. The episode ends with Peter receiving a white tulip in the mail, suggesting that Walter may be alright.
The Prisoner (2009): 2 uses 6's nobility and selfless humanity against him in the finale. In the real world, Dr. Curtis (2) had brought Michael (6) into The Village with the express purpose of training him as his replacement. After mentally breaking 6, 2 publicly announces that 6 is the only person capable of stopping The Village from collapsing. 6 agrees to become the new Dreamer, but 313 intervenes and takes the position instead, allowing 2 and his wife to go free and wake up from The Village. In her new dream state, 313 sheds tears for 6's new indefinite imprisonment as 6 begins imagining a new and better Village.
The second season of Mighty Med ends with Oliver's mom absorbing the power of the Arcturian and becoming a powerful supervillainess. On the plus side, Alan gets to meet his father (and grandfather), and Kaz and Oliver get powers too!
Continuum ends with both Bad Futures averted, and Kiera finding herself in a much more utopian 2077, and she even gets to see her son Sam again. But she can only see him from a distance, because his mother is that timeline's Kiera.
My Cat From Hell's hour-long episode featuring Lux, the cat who was so aggressive that the owners had to call 911 when he attacked their seven-month-old child and trapped them in a room, resulted in him being rehomed (a rare outcome for the show). It turned out that Lux, an otherwise calm cat, had a condition causing him to feel pain on random occasions, triggering his violent behavior. Both Lux's owners and Jackson agreed that rehoming was the best choice for Lux and the family. The ending is "sweeter" for Lux in light of the owners' admission that they'd allowed their child to play rough with the cat, the husband had in fact kicked him, and allegations of neglect/abuse. The family later tried to get him back, but were blocked.