All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues) by Erich Maria Remarque. After seeing his friends killed off one by one, a German soldier during WWI progressively loses interest in life. In the final chapter, he comments that peace is coming soon, but he does not see the future as bright and shining with hope, feeling that he has no aims left in life and that his generation will be different and misunderstood. When he finally dies at the end of the novel, the situation report from the frontline states, "All is Quiet on the Western Front," symbolizing the cheapness of human life in war.
El Conquistador ends that way, in a similar way than many Real Life Examples of Argentinian heroesnote although Quetza is actually Aztec, the writer is Argentinian, so... : the hero is demoted, mocked and no one believes his warnings about the dangerous people across the sea.
Handle with Care ends with Charlotte winning her wrongful birth lawsuit and getting all the money she'll ever need to care for ill daughter Willow. She's also lost all her friends and driven herself into near-complete isolation save for her family, and has indirectly done the same thing to older daughter Amelia, who developed issues with cutting and bulimia as a result of the novel's events. Piper, Charlotte's former best friend and ob-gyn whom she sued, loses her confidence because of the lawsuit and so loses her career. And younger daughter Willow, the center of the entire plot, drowns in the backyard pond, essentially rendering the entire lawsuit pointless.
The Pirate King by R.A. Salvatore. Duerdermont is dead, Big BadKensidan is now king of the city, and plans to turn into a town of kidnappers, art thieves, and any other criminal you can think of. The Lich Archmage was defeated by Robillard, but he just retreats to his phylactery, which is in the hands of his Lich apprentice. Drizzt and Regis can do nothing to help the city, and leave to try and solve a mage civil war from earlier in the book. Even the upcoming The Ghost King cannot solve all these problems.
The last book of Transitions, The Ghost King, ends with Cadderly becoming the new Ghost King to save his friends, Catti-brie and Regis dead from the effects of the Spellplague, Bruenor depressed over the loss of his adoptive daughter and friend and Drizzt emotionally dead over the death of his wife.
The Bluest Eye ends with the main character, a little girl, being raped by her father, becoming pregnant, and turning insane. She is ostracized by the entire town, including her two former friends who blame themselves. Her only friends plant some flowers in hope that the baby will be born safely. The flowers don't grow. The end.
Used greatly in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in which the decoy protagonist Bernard learns the hard way the costs of popularity and gets banished [maybe killed if you don't believe Mustapha Mond] for being an individualist. The real protagonist actually wants to leave but isn't allowed to and gives in, ultimately shaming the poor guy to the point of hanging himself
Virtually anything written by John Steinbeck. Not because he liked downer endings of course. He just loved inherently depressing subjects in the first place that couldn't end in anything but tragedy.
The Oaken Throne: All the evil has been defeated and everyone is celebrating. Though Ysabelle had previously rejected her love Vesper, she has come to her senses, deciding to give up the Starwifeship and run away with him as he wanted her to. She excitedly runs to find him, but during the brief period she left him alone, Vesper has been killed and the book ends with Ysabelle sobbing over his body.
Thomas: The evil Mother Lotus puts Thomas into a trance, causing him to throw his best friend Woodget (who cannot swim) into the ocean. When Thomas awakens from the trance, he realises what he has done and is filled with remorse. In the epilogue, it is revealed that Woodget was rescued by the siren Zenna whose song gave him amnesia. He was brought to the City of Hara in India and became the new Holy One. Thomas continues to live with guilt due to the mistaken belief that he killed Woodget.
The Redwall novel Martin the Warrior has one of the biggest Downer Endings ever seen in a book for children. (Technically it's a Bittersweet Ending because the Big Bad of the book has been defeated, but that's not enough to rescue it from Downer Ending territory. Not by a long way.) The titular hero, blaming himself for the death of his girlfriend in battle, goes into exile and tries to forget she existed.
The novel Outsourced ends with Isaac Fisher, having finally stood up to Felix and gaining some level of understanding with his sister regarding his gender reassignment surgery, going alone to face his former employers. It turns out that he was a service clone made by his original to make him money for his own gender reassignment surgery, because of the lack of laws protecting clone rights. What follows is a scene mimicking the very first source of drama in the book.
Present in most of the Fantastic Comedy novels of Tom Holt. Little People and In Your Dreams stand out as having especially (even gratuitously) depressing endings.
Tom Holt's novels set in antiquity (Olympiad, A Song for Nero, Alexander at the World's End). The narratives explores various ancient philosophies. For example, A Song For Nero, which starts out as a relatively amusing story about two itinerant conmen having adventures all over the Roman Empire. And then in true Tom Holt fashion, everything falls apart about 3/4 of the way through the book. It's depressing.
In the fifth book, Mostly Harmless, all of the main characters died (except Zaphod, who was never mentioned again after the end of the third book) in an explosion that resulted in Earth being destroyed in all possible realities. Rather jarring in a series that was mostly lighthearted comedy, if not above a little black humor. Reportedly, Douglas Adams was considering writing a sixth book to end on a lighter note, but - rather depressingly - died before he managed to complete it, or even change it from its Dirk Gently origins.
Fit the Twenty-Sixth of the Quintessential Series of the radio broadcast presents a different ending from Mostly Harmless; in it, most of the main characters reappear at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, including Fenchurch and Marvin. Fitting that Adams, who loved to change the story for each format, would create two wildly different endings. Adams didn't write the episode - all the episodes from Fit the Thirteeenth / Tertiary Phase onward are posthumous adaptations of the books. The revised ending may or may not have been derived from Adams' notes.
And Another Thing... was written by Eoin Colfer in which most of the main characters again survive - not in the same way, although there is a Mythology Gag reference to it. The ending of the sixth book itself is fairly happy, if a little, um, gainaxy...
One of Orwell's early essays was titled "How the Poor Die". The man was not a happy chappy.
Read Hemingway? There's even a joke about his writing: "Why did the chicken cross the road? To die. In the rain. Alone." And that's no exaggeration. One of Hemingway's most critically acclaimed shorts, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber", is a prime example. You can always tell who will die horribly in a Hemingway story - it's the one who is happiest.
Give It Up by Franz Kafka is about a man searching for the afterlife and being told that his quest is futile.
Kafka's The Metamorphosis features a main character who becomes a bug (literally "vermin") whose only escape from his life's horror is self destruction. With his usefulness as a breadwinner gone, his family ignores him and he dies a slow, painful death. Afterwards, his sister is marked for her money-making potential as a bride, indicating that the cycle will just continue. Some people think that Gregor was insane and hallucinating being a bug, noting that no character actually directly states that he really transformed. note The fanfic epilogue Re-metamorphosis (not printed in all editions) has Gregor turning back into a human at the very end of the book. Although it's still kind of a downer.
Kafka's novel, Der Prozess (The Trial) is so horribly depressing, it spawned the term "kafkaesque" to describe any situation that is utterly absurd and mindcrushing to anyone still sane (while everyone around you seems to accept it as natural, but doesn't tell you what is going on). The protagonist is being told he is accused of a crime but no-one he meets is willing to tell him what he is actually accused of, and when or where the trial will be, and he is stuck in a hopeless mire of bureaucracy and red tape that grows ever more grotesque.
Very Kafkaesque is Nathan Englander's The Ministry OF Special Cases. The humourous tone becomes crueler and crueler as the quest of the central couple to find their only son, who has been taken in by the secret police, is presented as an absurd farce. By the end, they can choose to believe the testimony of one man who claims all the missing young people were drugged and pushed from an aeroplane into the sea to drown. Or they can go on trying and dealing with the arbitrary bureaucracy fruitlessly, forever, in search of their boy. They choose different approaches and not even their previously loving marriage survives the book.
The Chinese zeitgeist novel Wolf Totem ends with the protagonist killing the wolf he raised from infancy with a shovel. After he maims it by clipping the points of its fangs off, ensuring that it can never survive in the wild. And after he lets it suffer for three days from a mortal throat wound caused by an iron chain, just because he can't bring himself to kill it. And it gets better! Due to the wholesale slaughter of Mongolian wolves, the grassland is overgrazed, succumbs to desertification twenty years later, and Beijing suffers its first ever sandstorm.
Rama Revealed ends with Nicole des Jardins dying painfully of a heart problem. She decides to refuse help and die rather then burdening her family. Eagle tells her the secret of life: God is an uncaring, manipulative creator who uses life to justify his universe. Death is, "...darkness...forever." Nicole sees her daughter, an octospider, her husband and a genocidal dictator die then fades out.
The Chocolate War ends with the hero beaten senseless in a fixed fight, the villain being given MORE influence, the only adult who isn't evil is useless, the school hating the hero, and the hero ends the book with an internal monologue on the pointlessness of ever trying to defy a cruel system, and urging his sidekick to just bow down to the school's bully-based dictatorship. Looking at the back jacket, in the sequel, things get worse. At the end of the sequel a more villainous leader takes over the school gang, but there is hope things will change because the hero of the previous book is coming back to school and it is heavily implied he will continue to stand up to said gang.
China Miéville's Perdido Street Station: it is revealed that Isaac's girlfriend Lin is still alive, and he's reunited with her just long enough for her mind to be partially destroyed by the last slake moth, leaving her a slobbering near-vegetable. All of the other people whose minds were drained by the slake moths are lost causes. It is revealed that Yagharek's mysterious crime that caused him to be exiled from garuda society and have his wings torn out is rape, and even though the female garuda that was raped very pointedly tells Isaac to not judge Yagharek, Isaac refuses to help him. The book ends with Yagharek pulling out his feathers and smashing his beak, so as to appear "human". He encounters Jack Half-a-Prayer, who extends out his hand, inviting him to join his gang. It's important to note that Yagharek's victim also asks Isaac not to help Yagharek to escape his punishment.
The short science fiction story "The Cold Equations" is famous for its Downer Ending: there really isn't a way to save the girl, and she goes out the airlock willingly so the spaceship doesn't crash.
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang includes "Hell Is the Absence Of God". A skeptic and cripple who despises God on account of all the horrible misfortunes in his life is struck by a genuine Beam of Enlightenment, which makes him love God unconditionally and supposedly guarantees his entrance to Heaven... and then moments later he dies and is arbitrarily sent to Hell, where the titular absence of God inflicts constant Mind Rape on his now deity-loving psyche... forever. Stories of Your Life and Others contains the short "Division by Zero," which you can read for free here. Though this could more be considered a downer book, and is especially disturbing if you've studied a maths-based subject to any extent.
Childhood's End, by Sir Arthur C. Clarke. The Overlords cannot join with the Overmind, and are instead remembered as the "devils" who "exterminated" countless other intelligent species by uplifting them until they (the species) can evolve and join the Overmind. And that's just the Overlords. All of the children in the world Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence by gaining a psychic powers and developing into a Hive Mind. No other children are born so humanity goes crazy and kills itself. Eventually the children join the Overmind by turning the rest of the planet into energy, killing the last human in the process. Sure the Overlords are jealous about not being able to join the Overmind, but anyone who is a fan of individuality and not a fan of Assimilation Plot is going to have a hard time seeing what is so great about it.
Flowers for Algernon in spades. The whole book itself was pretty Deus Angst Machina, but by the end when have to watch as Charlie goes back to becoming mentally handicapped, writhing in pain and dread all the way, you seriously wonder why the book doesn't burst into flames.
The Warhammer novel Eldar Prophecy features a civil war on an Eldar craftword. Every sympathetic character is killed off over the course of the novel, until finally the Designated Hero kills the villain... and then, in the last two pages, the Man Behind The Man steps forward and reveals that everything has gone according to plan, and they can feed the souls of all the Eldar who died to Slaanesh so that the entire craftword will be pulled into the Warp.
In the novel Farseer by William King, the protagonist decides to help the soul of the titular farseer so he doesn't get eaten by Slaanesh, since he's grown to trust the guy over the course of the book. Said farseer then takes over his body, imitating him so well that his friends can't even tell it's not him, with the protagonist fully conscious and aware of his situation, and then the farseer takes them on a mission that will probably get them all killed. We will never know.
Fire Warrior ends with Kais, with the help of Space Marine Ardias and a few Crisis Suits defeats the forces of Chaos. However, he ends up mentally broken and horrendously traumatized from his experiences.
Graham McNeill's Storm of Iron. The Iron Warriors won, all the Imperial Fist Space Marines and Jouran Imperial Guard are dead or enslaved, and all the gene-seed is winging its way to Abaddon the Despoiler for his 13th Black Crusade. Guardsman Hawke is the only real survivor. See his Dead Sky Black Sun for more.
John le Carré novels. Even when the characters win, it's still a downer. The end of The Russia House is somber but hopeful, and Single & Single has an almost unequivocally positive ending.
Most of Donna Leon's books. While the commissario solves the crime, it turns out he can't prosecute the perpetrators because of their political backing or similar issues.
The last book of the Sienkiewicz Trilogy, Mr Wolodjyowski, ends with the main character dead, along with several of his companions, and part of Poland ceded to the enemy. It is especially tragic for his wife, as the book deals with their relationship, which is very loving. This is in stark contrast to two earlier books in the trilogy, With Fire and Sword and The Deluge, both which see the lead couples get reunited and also end with victorious battles. It was a historical novel and we know what happens next: the country steadily goes into disarray eventually leading up to the Partitions and being wiped off the map for over a century.
The Goblet of Fire marks the first time Voldemort scores a victory, managing to gain a huge advantage over the forces of good and traumatizing Harry in the process.
The Order of the Phoenix ends with a major character death that plunges Harry into a deep grief, as everyone fears the impending Second Wizarding War.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which ends with Dumbledore dead; Snape apparently evil and definitely a killer; Bill Weasley permanently scarred right before his wedding; and Harry, Ron, and Hermione dropping out of school to finish what Dumbledore started, knowing how slim their chances are. Harry even breaks off his new relationship with Ginny.
The Stephen King novel The Green Mile: The protagonist is forced to execute John Coffey, the black man who did not do the crime he is being executed for, but not before he's Blessed with Suck by him, and thus is forced to watch in perfect health while his friends die of old age, and is not injured in a catastrophic bus crash that takes the life of everyone else on the bus, including his wife. The book ends with his final friend, a woman in the nursing home where he lives, dying before he can tell her about his wife, and him spending his final days alone and wishing for death, but still in perfect health. As hard as it is to believe, the film was an upper ending in comparison.
The King novel IT has a pretty depressing ending. The main characters, who were very close as children but then forgot all about each other (except for Mike Hanlon, who stayed behind to keep a watch over the town), return to Derry and reunite only to defeat the monster at the cost of two out of seven friends dying. Those who survive begin to forget each other again, even Mike. Though not part of It itself, later works such as The Tommyknockers and especially Dreamcatcher hint that Pennywise (or one of its offspring) LIVES.
In the end of King's Duma Key, protagonist Edgar manages to seal away the evil Perse. However many people were lost in the struggle, including his daughter. The ending compounds this by killing off his best friend in with a heart attack, months after the final confrontation. Really, the only happy part of the ending is when Edgar writes up a hurricane, to destroy the godforsaken strip of land once and for all.
The Dark Half ends with Thad Beaumont successfully overcoming his evil alter ego George Stark. This fairly upbeat ending was subverted by King in his later novel Needful Things, where it was revealed that Beaumont's wife Liz divorced him, after which he killed himself.
The ending of Cujo: The title monster dog is finally killed, but tragically poor Tad dies of heat stroke.
'Salem's Lot. If anything, the entire book is a downer as you realize that by the time the book has ended, most of the characters you've met will be either dead, or vampires.
The majority of short stories in King's Night Shift have terrible, tragic endings:
1408 ends with the room melting and distorting, about to consume Enslin. Enslin sets himself on fire, and the room lets him leave. Enslin is saved by another hotel guest who happened to be walking by with a bucket of ice water. Enslin doesn't publish his story, the recordings are useless, and he has third degree burns, scarring him for the rest of his life. He retreats to a house in Long Island where he lives out a lonely life, has health problems, and is completely traumatized by his 70-minute stay in room 1408.
Jerusalem's Lot ends with our protagonist, Charles Boone, dashing himself to death on the rocks at the foot of Chapelwaite; he believes himself to be the last link in a chain of familial evil. This turns out not to be true, however, because the presenter and editor of this epistolary story is a man named James Robert Boone, a distant relative of Charles. In the last line of the story, James says he can hear huge rats in the walls as well.
"Graveyard Shift" ends with the death of the protagonist, Hall, and the descent into the sub-sub-basement of the men who work in the mill; presumably some of them will not make it out alive.
At the end of "Night Surf," there is no resolution; the narrator states his belief earlier in the story that every member of the group will die, since they're all infected with Captain Trips.
"I Am the Doorway" ends with the narrator taking his own life, since new alien eyes have started growing on his chest.
"The Mangler" ends with the demon-infested machine pulling itself out of its concrete moorings and escaping the laundry in a killing frenzy.
At the end of "The Boogeyman," Lester Billings falls prey to the monster who killed his children.
They're still waiting at the end of "Gray Matter," but it sure doesn't look good for Henry Parmalee.
At the end of "Trucks," the rigs are backed up for miles on the interstate and our narrator knows that he, the counterman and the girl will end up pumping gas until they simply drop dead. He sees two jet contrails in the sky and says, "I wish I could believe there are people in them."
"Strawberry Spring" ends with our protagonist believing that he is in fact Springheel Jack, the killer.
"The Lawnmower Man" ends with Harold Parkette falling victim to the fat lawn-cutter, his machine and Pan's cult.
At the end of "Children of the Corn," Burt and Vicky end up sacrificed to He Who Walks Behind the Rows, and that god demands the age of propitiation be lowered to 18.
"The Last Rung on the Ladder" ends on a terrible note, with Kitty committing suicide by swan-diving off a building, and Larry's knowledge that if only he had gotten her final letter sooner (it was plastered with several change-of-address stickers), he might have been able to prevent it.
"The Man Who Loved Flowers" ends with the murder of the woman in the alley; we learn that the young man is not in love, but is the deranged hammer murderer we heard mention of earlier in the story.
George Macdonald's The Princess and Curdie, the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, seems to end on a positive note, with Curdie saving Gwyntystorm, and with Curdie and Irene getting married. However, the book takes a turn for the worse when it is revealed that the couple never has children, so after the two die, a new king is elected. The new king is greedy for gold and forces the people to mine for gold under the city. When the mine is depleted, the king reduces the golden pillars that hold up Gwyntystorm, thus they become too fragile to hold up the city. One day at noon, the reduced pillars cannot support the hill anymore and break, destroying Gwyntystorm and killing everyone inside of it.
A few short stories in King's Skeleton Crew have downer endings (though not as many as in Night Shift):
"Cain Rose Up": Ends with Curt Garrish going on a shooting rampage, à la Charles Whitman.
"The Jaunt": Ricky Oates goes insane after taking the Jaunt awake.
"The Raft": The blob on the lake consumes all four kids.
"The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands": Henry Brower commits suicide by shaking his own hand.
"The Reaper's Image": Spangler sees the eponymous Image and excuses himself, saying he feels sick; Carlin knows he will never return. The DeIver Glass has claimed another victim.
"Nona": Our narrator is preparing to commit suicide, and is unable to acknowledge that "Nona" was a product of his own imagination.
"Survivor Type": Richard Pine eats himself to death.
"Uncle Otto's Truck": Otto Schenck is killed by the truck (which is possibly inhabited by the malevolent spirit of George McCutcheon).
"Morning Deliveries (milkman #1)": Spike leaves deadly items at some of the houses on his milk route for no apparent reason; presumably some of those families will lose a member.
"Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (milkman #2)": Rocky and Leo die in the car crash; Spike heads to Bob's house (It's implied that Spike will kill Bob's wife, burn his house down and frame Bob for the crime).
"Gramma": George is possessed by his dead Gramma.
"The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet": After Rackne is killed by Jimmy, Reg Thorpe puts a bullet through his own head; his story is never published anywhere, the only copy having been destroyed when the editor's car went into a lake during his blackout.
Philip K. Dick's short story Second Variety ends with the main character bleeding out as the first of many homicidal robots exits the Earth's atmosphere towards humanity's final holdout on the moon, using a rocket and coordinates which he unwittingly provided to it. His only solace comes from noticing that the robot carried an EMP grenade - once they wipe out humankind, they just might avenge our race by killing each other.
Conn Iggulden's Emperor series has quite the downer ending. Then again, the novels are about Julius Caesar and his friendship with Brutus, so it was hard not to see it coming.
The second novel in the tetralogy also has a downer ending, with Caesar's wife being murdered and Caesar himself being sent to Spain, having to leave his daughter behind.
Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo ends with all of the cast who went to battle dead apart from Tommo, and as it's stated that he's going to the Somme it can be inferred that he's going to die as well.
For some, the Animorphs series was a downer ending. Sure, they ended the Yeerk invasion, but Rachel dies. Tom dies at Jake's command, having never been freed from his Yeerk, and Jake is depressed. Tobias leaves to live his life as a hawk. Marco's life is bittersweet shallow. Cassie gets her dream job, but never ends up with Jake. Ax becomes a war hero, but ends up getting assimilated into the Borg. And presumably, everyone but Cassie dies in the Bolivian Army Ending.
Field of Dishonor ends on the field of dishonor with Honor killing Pavel Young and (temporarily) ruining her career in politics and in the Manticoran Navy.
At All Costs features the largest battle in Human history, with the knowledge that even their 'win' doesn't mean a thing. No one lost their shipyards and the reasons for the war hasn't changed. 2 million dead and the War just got going with the only chance for meaningful peace up in flames.
Storm from the Shadows: The war with the Solarian League is starting in truth and even though Manticore has better technology the Mesan Alignment is about to take out their shipyards. Worse the SL may not view it as a real war, making Manticore look bad to all potential allies if they do the deep strikes needed to win a real war, and No one knows Mesa has infiltrated everyone. Oh and a fleet of 100 SDs is about to hit the lightly defended capital of the Quadrant.
In Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, the protagonist Joe Bonham is introduced as an American soldier who has left behind his family and loving girlfriend in order to enlist in the army during World War I. In the opening scenes he awakens in a hospital bed after being hit by an artillery round. He gradually realizes that he has lost all of his mobility and his senses except for touch, and that he has lost his arms, legs, eyes, nose, ears, tongue, both jaws and all of his face. But his mind functions perfectly, leaving him a prisoner in his own body. The doctors have given him a tracheotomy so he can't suffocate, taking away his ability to kill himself. He attempts to talk to the doctors using Morse code in order to communicate his desire to die, and being denied that, to be shown around the country as an example of the horrors of war so that young men won't do as he did. Then they strap his head down so he can't "talk." Oh yeah, then he resumes going insane, something which was temporarily halted when he learned he could communicate in some way. It is more or less explicitly said that this is how he will live out the rest of his life. Then, to stop him from freaking out the nurses, they drug him with pain-killers. It ends as he slowly sinks into a haze.
Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde definitely qualifies. As we find out at the end the Hyde personality wins, and Jekyll spends his last hour before permanently turning into Hyde writing down the case from his perspective and hoping he finishes it before he transforms, as Hyde would likely destroy it. Then, rather than live life as a murderous monster, he commits suicide. This ending tends to come as a shock to people who haven't read the novella, since the Jekyll and Hyde duality has ingrained itself into pop culture and is more often than not played for laughs.
Robert A. Heinlein's short story "The Long Watch", which ends with a Heroic Sacrifice and the hero's death site so contaminated with radiation from the disassembled nuclear bombs that it takes ten years before men in radiation suits can retrieve him for a hero's funeral in a lead-lined casket.
Ray Bradbury seemed to have a thing for pulling this on occasion:
Nearly all of Bradbury's short stories from The Martian Chronicles (published in the UK as The Silver Locusts) have downer endings. The first three expeditions to Mars are destroyed by the Martians. The first is offhandedly slaughtered by a dour Martian who believes that his wife is psychically cheating on him with the outsiders. The members of the second end up being considered madmen and consigned to a looney bin, since Martians are psychics and capable of physically manifesting their hallucinations; and are eventually pronounced incurable and executed by the doctor — who, when the "hallucinations" persist, considers himself contaminated with their insanity and kills himself. The third expedition is the aforementioned "Mars is Heaven!". The entire collection consists almost exclusively of downer endings where Martians are wiped out by human viruses, psychically torturted to death, or commit suicide; as well as humans committing murder and suicide, with the majority eventually returning to Earth to be wiped out in a nuclear war. A few stories can be said to be upbeat, particularly the last; but only by comparison to the rest.
His short story "Mars is Heaven!" starts out as a sort of Ontological Mystery in the beginning. A crew from Earth land on Mars, which looks like Ohio at the turn of the 20th century. However, when their long lost dead relatives start appearing, it becomes more of a Lotus-Eater Machine story. It ends with a sort of Downer Ending, where the town and the crew's long dead loved-ones were hallucinations made by aliens. The aliens kill everyone in their sleep, bury them for some strange reason, and destroy their ship.
"All Summer in a Day" is another short story, and boy, is it depressing. It takes place on Venus, which has relentless non-stop rain except one day every 7 years. Every student there was born there except Margot, a girl who lived on Earth until her parents moved to Venus. She misses the Sun terribly and is weak and sickly and hated by the other students, who are jealous that she's seen the Sun on Earth. The teacher leaves and the students lock Margot in a closet. The Sun finally comes out for the first time in 7 years, and the kids, completely forgetting her, run into the nice weather and are overjoyed. It starts raining again, and they remember Margot, opening the closet and letting out the trembling, sobbing girl who missed her only chance at Sun that she desperately needed. The end.
There Will Come Soft Rains is about an automated house that takes complete and total care of its inhabitants. However, it is unaware that the entire family has been killed by a nuclear bomb while outside working and playing. (It even goes into detail about how the remains of paint on the side of the house are shaped a little like people mowing the lawn, picking flowers, kids catching a ball, etc.) The sole survivor is the family dog, which soon comes in and dies, and its body incinerated. The house burns down in an accident that night and the house computer is broken, sending it in an infinite loop, repeating the day, until it collapses. The End.
"The Pedestrian", the poor old man just wanted to go for an evening walk and ends up getting sent to an insane asylum by the last cop car in the city.
Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty ends with one of the main character's loves dead and one of them near death. He is kicked out of the house where he has lived in for the last four years. His best friend feels betrayed by him, and his other friend has betrayed him. In addition, he probably has AIDS.
Graham McNeill's False Gods: Horus assassinates two people, revealing his choice.
Ben Counter's Galaxy In Flames: A full-blown The Bad Guy Wins, with the only consolation being that the good guys are not all Dying Alone.
Graham McNeill's Fulgrim: In a battle full of treachery, Fulgrim kills Ferrus Manus; consumed by guilt, Fulgrim is tricked into letting a daemon possess him. It traps him, aware of all that happens and unable to act, for all time. Horus is horrified and declares that he will figure out a way to rescue Fulgrim and deal with the daemon — after his revolt.
Dan Abnett's Legion. Let us count the ways. The Alpha Legion turns traitor to ensure Chaos destroys itself by eliminating humanity itself. The Imperial Guard they brought with them are either killed when they blow up their ships or doomed to die a horrible death on the planet itself. John Grammaticus commits suicide by throwing himself out of an airlock because his best friend and his lover have betrayed him and he has doomed humanity to extinction. Oh, and all of this doesn't prevent the vision the Cabal have seen, itensures it.
Graham McNeill's Battle for the Abyss: All of the heroes in the book die, many hating one another's guts after being relatively strong comrades to begin with. Almost all of them die pointless deaths, attempting just to slow down the planet killer they are trying to destroy. It takes an utterly suicidal attack to finally successfully board the ship, in which more than half of the remaining loyalists are killed or forced to turn their guns on one another by psychers. In their final moments they just about manage to succeed. Why is this a downer ending rather than a bitter one? No one will ever know of their actions, no one will remember their names or recall anything they did. They lost everything and had everything they were destroyed. Their victory was giving one loyalist legion a very slim chance at surviving a massed sneak attack by two traitor ones.
The Damnation of Pythos is grim even by Horus Heresy standards. The good guys only achieve one minor victory, by destroying a handful of Emperor's Children ships. Then they get wiped out to the last man by daemons they unleashed, and their last desperate message is filed away and ignored.
In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novel Deus Encarmine, Rafen is forced to pledge himself to Arkio as the reincarnated Sanguinius. Which is the point at which he realizes that they will meet at some point and one will die. And Arkio is not merely a fellow Blood Angel but his brother. Though this being a two-part series, this has shades of a Cliffhanger.
In Gav Thorpe's Warhammer 40,000 novel Angels of Darkness, Boreas comes to the conclusion that the man he tortured and interrogated (and condemned to a Fate Worse Than Death) was right: the Dark Angels have committed themselves to the wrong path. He convinces the Dark Angels with him to remain in a hermetically sealed fortress, so they will not release a fatal virus on the planet, even though they will die themselves, but he knows the message he sends to the other Dark Angels will not convince them. Rather than face what they could do when desperate for air and food, commit suicide together.
The Dresden Files aren't the happiest books in the world, but book 11 ends on a really depressing note. Sure, they found the traitor on the Council, but the whole thing was a set up to get the Black Council's guy on the Senior Council. Morgan, who was a Jerk Ass but a completely loyal one, is dead. Anastasia Luccio, the woman Harry has been dating, turns out to have been mentally coerced by the spy into the relationship in order to keep an eye on Harry. And Harry's half-brother, Thomas, has given into his vampire side after being tortured by the skin-walker and fed humans by it, and has returned to the White Court. note (and the next book starts from there and goes downhill fast.)
Lady: My Life as a Bitch ends with Lady trying to be accepted by her family, which seems to lightly work, until her older sister Julie convinces them otherwise. Lady is then rejected by them, with her family coming to the conclusion that she's a mad dog, and call the police to have her taken away and euthanised. Before the police come though, Lady escapes with encouragement from Mitch and Fella, herself having taken on a light view of Humans Are Bastards, and runs off with them. She's stuck as a dog forever, and earlier in the book when she just lived life as a dog, Lady lost herself, forgetting all human life and its memories, which is probably going to happen again. Oh, and Terry's still around, turning people into dogs if they (accidentally or not) get him angry, with no cure.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas definitely counts as the two main characters end up being gassed in a concentration camp while being completely unaware of what is going to happen to them. What makes it even worse is the fact that the non-Jewish boy was only in the camp to help his friend find his father who is "missing" and it is very clear to the reader that his father is in fact dead.
Beggars Ride by Nancy Kress, last book of Beggars in Spain trilogy, ends in one of these. the Supersleepless are all dead(though samples of their sperm and eggs survive), most of the Sleepless die when Sanctuary is destroyed unreconciled with the Sleepers(though its better than if they had survived unreconciled), last bookd panacea(the Cell Cleaner which makes a person immune to almost all diseases, cancers, arthritis, skin blemishes, etc. as well as allowing said person to subsist on skin contact with dirt and sunlight) is unavailable to future generations, and an engineered virus(which is able to work around the Cell Cleaner) has infected a significant part of the population with a disease that causes a fear of novelty(worst than it sounds).
Ship of the Line has a downer ending: The Sutherland is heavily damaged, forcing Horatio to surrender, Bush has lost his leg, and both of them are prisoners of war.
Lord Hornblower. Hornblower's mission was a success and he was raised to the peerage because of it, but Bush, the closest person Horatio had to a friend, dies in the process. Then when Napoleon escapes and Horatio tries to escape, he fails, and in the process loses his mistress. Only news of the Battle of Waterloo saved him from dying again.
Hornblower and the Atropos ends with Hornblower's ship being taken away to placate the King of Sicily, a full-grown Royal Brat who would turn on the Brits if they didn't give it to him. Although Lord Collingwood tries to soften the blow by promising that Hornblower will get a ship of the line when he returns to England, Hornblower arrives to find that his two children are dying of smallpox.
Nearly all of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion books consist of grim stories of war and betrayal, followed by downer endings; most notably the Elric of Melnibone books. The Eternal Champion himself is doomed to find only strife and pain in all of his manifestations; too never be at peace, but eternally seperated from anything and everything he loves. Mercifully, only one incarnation, Erekose, is even remotely aware of this destiny; but he has enough Wangst about it to make up for the rest.
Corum Jhaelen Irsei has a Bittersweet Ending in the Swords Trilogy: he is still maimed, but his human lover is alive, not all his people were exterminated and are gradually recovering from the devastation, and the Lords of Law and Chaos are no longer able to meddle in mortals' lives.
Averted in the Comic BookMichael Moorcock's Multiverse (scripted by Moorcock himself), in which the polarity of the Multiverse is reversed just long enough for Elric to avoid being absorbed into the Eternal Champion and instead absorb it into himself, thereby regaining control of his own destiny.
For ultra-depressing, tear-jerking downer endings (and middles, and beginnings), though, there's nothing like Edgar Allan Poe poetry.
Chuck Klosterman's debut novel, Downtown Owl. 2 out of 3 of the main characters focused on are killed in a deadly blizzard...and they're both rather young. The one that survives is well around in his late 70s early 80s. And it also includes a fake newspaper article explaining how nearly half of Owl's population was killed (about 800 live in Owl).
Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby goes downhill rapidly in the climax as a series of unfortunate circumstances occur: Daisy Buchanan accidentally drives over Myrtle in Gatsby's car, Tom convincing Myrtle's husband that Gatsby was the driver, causing him to murder the depressed Gatsby, and then shoot himself. Daisy and Tom return to their extravagant lifestyle, leaving Nick all alone to wonder what in the world happened. Hardly anyone attends Gatsby's funeral and Nick reflects on how much rich people suck and how Gatsby was stuck in the past the entire time.
The Iliad ends with Hector's funeral—sure, they got the body back, but you're just treated to another funeral of people ripping their hair out in misery.
The Thrawn Trilogy: The last scenes of the second book, Dark Force Rising, are less down than most examples, more on the par of the Star Wars movies, where things look bad but the surviving heroes are determined. After a hard battle and threeBig Damn Heroes moments, the New Republic is barely, just barely able to survive an Imperial trap. The New Republic and the Empire had been in a race of sorts to get to the long-lost Katana fleet of heavy Dreadnaughts, and in the aftermath of the battle the heroes find that while they'd been fighting among Katana fleet Dreadnaughts, there were only fifteen there. Out of two hundred. You Are Too Late, indeed. The heroes try to console themselves, saying that the Empire is strapped for crews and won't be able to scrape together four hundred thousand people to crew the Dreadnaughts anytime soon. And then they take a look at the bodies of the Imperials they just killed. They are all clones. Meaning that the Empire has found a new stock of Spaarti cylinders, and it won't take years to find and train crews. Maybe only months. Maybe not even that long. This Is Gonna Suck.
Outbound Flight is this or bittersweet. No one clearly, unambiguously good is around at the end of the novel—the only essentially good main characters either left back in the first half or died in a Heroic Sacrifice that preserves the last fifty survivors of Outbound Flight, which originally had fifty thousand people on it. The woman who sacrificed herself got another character to promise her that he'd send back a message to her brother, who hated her. And from the previously-published sequelSurvivor's Quest, we know that those survivors and their descendants curse that woman's name for abandoning them, that no one ever learns what she did, and that the man she extracted a promise from set up a criminal organization and didn't so much as think about her request for fifty years. Damn, Lorana, you got the short end of the stick.
Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance. After years of struggle for the four protagonists, when their hard work finally starts paying off and everything is looking up for them... Mistry completely ruins it for them, leaving them in a situation worse than the one that they started with, proving one and for all that life is out to get you.
Iain M. Banks's Against a Dark Background. The protagonist saves herself at the end by killing the Big Bad, who is also her last surviving relative. Before this, everyone she cares about, and in fact every single main character (and most of the secondary ones), and has been killed, all because of her.
Tolkien's The Children of Húrin (and the condensed version of the same story found in The Silmarillion). Húrin and his brother Huor fight in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, where Huor dies and Húrin is taken prisoner by Morgoth. Húrin refuses to tell Morgoth the location of a nearby Hidden Elf Kingdom, so Morgoth curses his family, and forces Húrin to watch the unfolding misfortune playing out on Túrin, his son, and Túrin's sister Niënor. By the time the story ends, Túrin has killed his best friend accidentally, taken a kingdown to its fall, failed to save his girlfriend, and unknowingly married Niënor. When she finds out, Niënor throws herself off a cliff (whilst pregnant with Túrin's child). Túrin kills himself with his sword. His father, no longer a prisoner, accidentally leads the enemy to the city he had tried to protect in the battle, and then he and his wife find their children's tomb; soon after she dies of grief. Húrin tries to avenge his children's death but only succeeds in bringing down a curse on anotherHidden Elf Kingdom which will soon lead to "The Fall of Gondolin", and is finally told by Melian that he's only helping Morgoth with his actions, and he kills himself. The End.
"Quenta Silmarillion". Finwë's family ends up entirely wiped out after he gets killed by Morgoth, who then steals the Silmarils. His eldest son Fëanor leading a Badass Army on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge to retrieve the Silmarils that ends up killing him, six of his sons, the surviving one (Maglor) spent wandering the shores of the world singing in despair. His second eldest son Fingolfin and his three children Fingon, Turgon and Aredhel all get killed achieving nothing. His third son Finarfin survives, but four out of his five children get killed (although Finrod dies saving the aforementioned Beren). There are 3 of the 5 great battles against Morgoth that end in tragedy: The Battle of the Sudden Flame: Everyone Burns, The Battle of Unnumbered Tears: Everyone Dies, and the Final Battle The War of Wrath: Everything Gets Destroyed. The Battle of Unnumbered Tears gets special mention though: it's the first coalition of all the races together to fight Morgoth, and the greatest army seen so far in the world outside of the gods. It gets crushed so badly and so many people die that Morgoth literally makes a hill out of the corpses. Worst is that they never had a chance: the only power strong enough to defeat Morgoth was the Valar, who sunk Beleriand in the process. By the end of the First Age, the only names characters left alive (out of a cast of several dozen immortal elves) are Galadriel (Finarfin's daughter), her husband Celeborn, Elrond and Elros (Turgon's grandchildren), Gil-galad (Fingon's son), Círdan, and Fëanor's grandson Celebrimbor (who eventually gets killed by and used as a banner by Sauron, not necessarily in that order, either.) Oh yeah, and Gil-galad dies overthrowing Sauron.
"The Fall of Gondolin" has the Hidden Elf City of Gondolin being destroyed, along with many of its inhabitants, including the King Turgon and many of the Elf Houses. There is some consolation in some of the inhabitants, Turgon's daughter Idril, her husband Tuor, and their son Earendil escaping, but it is still a huge tragedy.
Akallabeth has the Island of Numenor, inhabited by the greatest race of men to have ever lived, being corrupted by Sauron and finally being destroyed when its King attacks Valinor. Elendil leads nine ships to Middle-Earth as this happens but it is still a terrible tragedy.
Kate Chopin's The Awakening has protagonist Edna committing suicide when, among other things, she realizes there's no way to reconcile her sense of self with the social expectations of her period. She drowns herself in the ocean, which is especially poignant as learning to swim was the one time Edna derived satisfaction or a sense of freedom from just about anything. Of course, Edna was an incredibly controversial character at the time period, so many readers were SATISFIED when she offed herself.
Night by Elie Wiesel ends with Elie looking at himself in the mirror and seeing something that looks like a corpse. And he's already lost his home, most of his family, and his possessions. And gone through the Holocaust as a Jew.
John Brunner's novel Total Eclipse is mostly an old-fashioned novel about an archaeological expedition to an alien world, albeit with Earth civilisation in a tumultuous state. The scientists solve the puzzle and contact Earth ... to discover that civilisation back home has collapsed. They try to establish a colony on the new world ... and everyone dies of an unstoppable illness.
John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up concerning environmental collapse and its consequences. By the time you get to the end of the novel you realize that everyone - the good, the bad, rich, poor, the characters you've come to despise and the characters you've come cheer for, every one is dead, or dead and worse and the scariest thing about the novel is that, as noted by William Gibson, of all speculative fiction written this 1972 novel comes the absolute closest to dead-on predicting the world we live in ... right now.
The third book of the Spaceforce series, Oblivion, ends with the Big Bad getting clean away, the newly-wed Official Couple forcibly separated and forbidden to contact each other, and the pleasure planet Fantasia, where the novel is set, blasted into space atoms.
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. Jude dies alone, abandoned by the woman he loves, all three of his young children dead in a murder/suicide, while his wife who tricks him into remarrying him is off flirting with someone else.
William Gibson and Michael Swanwick's short story "Dogfight". The protagonist succeeds at his ultimate objective (defeating the local champion of a holographic, mentally-controlled battle game featuring WWI fighter planes), but immediately afterwards realizes the price he paid to do so was too high: stealing a piece of game-breaking technology from his only friend to give himself an advantage (psychologically scarring her in the process, due to a chastity implant her parents gave her that gives her a crippling fear of being touched by men) and alienating himself from the rest of the bar's patrons by robbing the game's champion (a quadriplegic war veteran) of the only pleasure left in his life. What good is a victory when you have no one to share it with?
The second book in The Princess Series, The Mermaid's Madness. The princesses discover that the mermaid princess Lirea, who attacked the Queen with a magic soul sucking knife and is trying to start a war between merpeople and humans, is not the real villain of the story. She has been under the influence of a spell cast by her grandmother Morveren that is slowly driving her mad. Morveren is killed and the spell broken but the experience has left Lirea's mind shattered. She is now confined to a tower by the sea with only the occasional visit from her sister to help her recover. Also, the queen they were trying to save, as a result of the attack she now only has a little over a year to live. They stopped the war but thats about the only good to come from this.
The Popol Vuh, book of belief of the Qechua (descendants of the Maya) and one of the few complete documents about Mayan mythology and history, has one of THE most downer endings, especially within context. Basically, the whole book tells the history of creation as written in Mayan myths, along with the adventures of heroic archetypes Ixbalanque and Hunahpu, the creation of the Qechua empire and the bloodline of kings. Then the writer, an anonymous Indian that wrote the book after the conquest, finishes with: "And this was the existence of the Qichés, for now the (original) Popol Vuh of the kings can't be seen, as it has disappeared. And so, all those of Qiché are gone." The whole culture basically went to hell shortly thereafter.
The Lies of Locke Lamora. While Locke and his best friend Jean escape, they are never allowed back in Camorra, the rest of the Gentlemen Bastards die, Locke is severely wounded, Jean is wounded, they're both exposed and possibly on the run from the law, and every friend (and enemy) they had in Camorra is currently dead due to their actions, both in the (pointless) nobleman con and the Grey King job. Among the most shocking of these is when the crime boss' daughter, who wasn't even involved in the mob war is shoved into a funeral casket full of horse urine and drowned. Locke even gets in a jab.
Locke: So this is what victory feels like?
Locke: Well, it fucking sucks.
Roy Hobbs strikes out at the end of The Natural. This gets inverted big time in Robert Redford's film adaptation.
In the short story "The Dumpster," a young girl lives with a horrible family: father is a fat, lazy slob who punches old ladies, mother is a shrieking, vain harpy who hates on her daughter, brother is a high-school drop-out who beats kids up and runs over cats (on purpose). The girl is the only decent member of them all. One day, a giant dumpster appears in their yard, and the girl later sees her family go inside and be taken away. At first, she's happy, because she's free of the family's horrible reputation and free of the emotional abuse they heap onto her, and the same magic dumpster gives her a new family. But it turns out the new family is creepy as hell while still being "perfect," and the girl is now forced to get perfect grades, look perfect, do her chores perfectly, and if she makes one little tiny mistake, the dumpster will take her away too. The poor kid is reduced to a terrified, blank-faced slave, possibly forever. And for no damn reason.
Mockingjay: Primrose dies, as well as some of Katniss's friends and allies, one of whom had recently been married. Katniss murders the President who took over and is deemed insane. What pushes it into somewhat upbeat realm is that Katniss marries Peeta and they have kids.
Nobody Lives Forever by Edna Buchanan: Poor Dusty gets brutally murdered by a psychopathic madwoman for no good reason. Jim, in the depths of despair over the injustice of it all, gives into temptation in a moment of weakness; he immediately repents of what he did, and resolves to return the money he stole, only to drop dead of a heart attack and have his body looted by a mob of the people he's spent his life serving and protecting. Laurel finally discovers that she has multiple personality disorder, and finally has the chance to get the psychological help she needs, but her most psychopathic personality, Alex, takes over and breaks out of the facility where she/they were being held, only to be shot and killed by Laurel's fiance Jim; the Alex and Harriet personalities deserved to die, and the Marilyn personality was no sweetheart, but the Jennie personality, as well as the main personality Laurel, were both innocent, and the only reason Laurel was mad in the first place was because she was horribly abused as a child. Jim, the only survivor, loses Dusty, the woman he really loves, without ever having the chance to apologize to her, he loses his best friend Jim, he loses his career, he probably can't ever show his face in the neighborhood that was his home for his whole life, and he has to shoot his fiancee. This is a sad ending.
Master of Many Treasures by Mary Brown. At first it seems like we're going to get a perfectly happy ending; the main character's section of the book ends with her going off to get her happy ending with the love of her life that she's spent two years searching for. Then you reach the epilogue, and another character takes over to reveal that immediately afterward she was burned alive by dragons.
Metro 2033 ends with Artyom finding out that he's literally 'The Chosen One', who is meant to serve as a bridge between mankind and the Dark Ones, so that both species can work together to create a brighter future. All throughout the book the Dark Ones were only trying to get in contact with the humans, not attack them. However... In the midst of this revalation the Dark Ones are all destroyed by missiles, (all thanks to Artyom's help prior to his findings), and a broken and despondent Artyom heads back to the Metro. And just to top it off, his adoptive father is most likely dead, and he can't go home due to the future destruction of a tunnel to VDNkh (which is essentially death for a station).
French Canadian writer Patrick Senecal has got to be the king of downer endings:
5150 Elm Street: The crazy father kills his little girl with a rifle, his wife hangs herself, the kid he was holding captive loses his mind is eventually found by the psychopath daughter, who proceeds to castrate him. And she manages to get away with it.
Oniria: Everyone dies except for the main character and his psychopath "true" self.
Sur le Seuil: The entire supporting cast is brutally murderer or commit suicide, taking with them a busload of innocents, and the main character is left tourmented for the rest of his life. And Evil lives on. Yay.
Le Vide: Life is empty.
Aliss: Bittersweet. Aliss is exiled from Wonderland, but manages to recover from her experience, find a husband and is expecting a baby. Later on, she tries to find the entrance to Wonderland again but cannot, concluding that it's because she "isn't running anymore". She doesn't know if she should be satisfied or depressed.
In Darkness at Noon, not only is there the Foregone Conclusion of the protagonist being shot as a traitor, but rather than die in silence he willingly confesses in a show trial to the false charges brought against him.
White Bim Black Ear by Gavriil Troyepolsky. A little dog's search for his master, who's been taken to hospital for heart problems. After many breathtaking and exciting adventures, encounters with kind and evil people, the dog dies a miserable death just before his master finds him.
Scorpia ends with Alex being shot by a sniper and, apparently dead. The only way to know he survives is from the fact that the series continues for four books.
The Women's Room by Marilyn French is not as extreme as some, but it's not exactly happy either. Although some of the group - Iso, Clarissa and Kyla - do get relatively happy endings, others don't. Lily is, as far as we're aware, still in a mental institution. Grete is unhappy in her relationship. Chris's fate remains unknown, Val is dead, and Mira spends most of her time outside of work wandering around on beaches. And one only wonders what happened to all the abandoned housewives in the first part of the novel.
Murder at Colefax Manor: Asides from The Many Deaths of You: you can find the cult, report it to your superiors, and conduct a raid, only for the police to come up with no evidence against Lord Colefax, which leads you to get counter-sued, which in turn leads to you ending up jobless and penniless on the street, with no-one believing your story.
There's a picture book for small children called Tadpole's Promise. It's about a tadpole who falls in love with a caterpillar. She was his beautiful rainbow, and he was her shiny black pearl. But she makes him promise he'll never change, and of course he starts growing legs. So she leaves him, and cries to herself to sleep in a cocoon. When she wakes up, she's a butterfly, realises people can't help changing, and flies off to look for him and forgive him. He's now a frog, and not recognising her he swallows her whole and then sits there sadly remembering his beautiful rainbow.
Zigzagged in the kids' book Wolves. It's about a rabbit who borrows a book about wolves from the library (which is cleverly presented as a book within the book) and reads it while walking home...being followed by a wolf. He gets to the bit about wolves eating rabbits, the wolf rears up behind him...and the next page is just the back cover of the book, scratched and bitten to shreds. The author then presents a happier ending for sensitive readers, where the wolf is a vegetarian. But then the last page shows letters piling up unanswered on the rabbit's doormat, including a late notice from the library. It's genuinely depressing.
Burnt Shadows ends with the protagonist's son being (unjustly) detained as a terrorist, leaving her completely alone in the world.
How To Steal A Dragon's Sword ends with Hiccup on the run from both dragons and vikings, having been (along with Stoick) driven out of the Hairy Hooligan tribe, with only Toothless, the Windwalker and the Wodinfang for company. Also, the dragons have turned on the vikings and are subsequently are at war, Alvin the Treacherous is king of the various viking clans and has almost all of the various items that Hiccup had accumulated over his previous escapades, and Snotlout is now chief of the Hooligans. Compared to the rest of the endings in the series, it's pretty jarring.
A Dog of Flanders: Nello is born as a poor orphan who lives with his grandfather. He wants to win a drawing contest to gain some money, but loses. Then his grandpa dies and he is homeless. He finally goes to the cathedral of Antwerp, where he freezes to death in front of a large painting by Peter Paul Rubens.
Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex has Artemis contract a mental condition of the same name that usually only strikes magical beings, but he has contracted it due to his abosorbing a small amount of magic. The symptoms escape This Troper at the time, but they are not good. Well, the team (Holly, Artemis, Butler, Juliet, Mulch, and Foaly) take down Turnball Root and save Atlantis. Sounds good right? But there's two HUGE problems: Opal Koboi's past self (long story) is still in the future, and Artemis STILL has Atlantis Complex.
Artemis: I was a broken boy and you fixed me. Thank you.
Jaqueline Carey's duology, The Sundering, in which all but one of the protagonists end up slain after having their stronghold sacked, and the last survivor is the crippled one.
Émile Zola's Thérèse Raquin ends with the title character and her lover going mad and committing suicide. Her aunt dies shortly after with no one to take care of her.
"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce. A soldier is hanged, but escapes after falling into the water and finds his family. Just kidding! The whole story was a fantasy that took place between the time he was hanged and his neck was broken. His fantasy might have meant he died happy.
The children's picture book Matilda Who Told Lies and Was Burnt to Death ends exactly how you think it ends. The author Hilaire Belloc wrote a whole book full of such mock uplifting verse. Titles also included "Henry King, who Chewed Bits of String and was Early Cut off in Dreadful Agonies" and "George, Who played with a Dangerous Toy, and suffered a Catastrophe of considerable Dimensions" (subverted to the extent that George himself is one of the few to survive the catastrophe, albeit with a minor injury). Averted with "Charles Augustus Fortescue, Who Always Did what was Right, and so Accumulated an Immense Fortune".
Beachwalker ends with the protagonist losing her beloved patient, then dying herself shortly afterward. Made slightly less sad by the ambiguous sensation of fingers closing around her hand just as she dies, implying that they are Together in Death.
The Go-Between. One character is dead by his own hand, another is faced with a loveless marriage of convenience, and the central character is emotionally scarred for life to the extent that he will be unable to form meaningful relationships.
"The Echo": The boy protagonist loses girl's friendship forever without gaining anything, and the girl, after being broken, loses her innocence along with her Blithe Spirit properties, becoming sad and distrustful. And they never met again.
Marcus Pitcaithly's The Hereward Trilogy offers THREE of them. The first book ends with the main rebel army defeated and Hereward fleeing back to the Fens; the second, with his Danish allies being bought off and abandoning him; and he dies in the third.
The Stranger ends with the protagonist, having shot a random guy for no apparent reason, being guillotined for the murder, never showing any remorse or giving any explanation for his crime. Well, it's Albert Camus, what did you expect?
Len Deighton novels, with Mamista as Exhibit A: the main protagonist falls in love with a revolutionary, she gets wounded, on the run through the jungle she contracts gangrene, they split off from the main group. Two gunshots are heard.
In On the Beach, following a nuclear exchange between the US and USSR the northern hemisphere is dead, and all the survivors in the southern hemisphere are going to be dead from radiation sickness in six months. Still, at least the Australian Government is thoughtfully handing out suicide pills, eh?
In Down to a Sunless Sea, everyone in the world has died in a nuclear war except a few hundred survivors in Antarctica. Then, in one version of the ending (it was published in two different versions), the Earth's axis tilts, Antarctica is no longer circumpolar, the radiation gets there too, and everyone else dies.
Froth on the Daydream. Alise kills the philosopher Jean-Sol Partre because he refused to stop publishing his books (her motivation is the fact that her husband Chick spends too much attention and money on the books). She also burns libraries close to her and is killed in the flames. The police kills Chick because of his failure to pay taxes. The once rich and popular Colin has impoverished himself trying to cure his sick wife of her illness, but she dies anyway. Now ruined, Colin can't pay the high price for her funeral and is harassed during it. Colin's pet mouse can't handle seeing Colin as sad as he is and is Driven to Suicide. Colin himself is alive in the end (with nothing left to live for), but considering that Chick was killed because he didn't pay taxes and that Colin is now disliked and poor.
Knowledge Of Angels: Palinor is killed, Amara has gone off to live a life of isolation, and an Aclaran fleet is coming to punish the island for Palinor's death.
Of all authors the usually optimistic and genial Bill Bryson managed a major downer with The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid. It is mostly a very cheerful, nostalgic autobiography about Des Moines in the 1950s and 1960s but the final chapter is something of a Tearjerker as the fates of people and places are recalled; Bill Bryson Sr. died in 1986, school Buttmonkey 'Milton Milton' died in the 1991 Gulf War, Bryson's soon-to-be-gay school friend Jed Mattes died from cancer. Nearly all of the shops, diners, and other hangouts featured in the book end up closed and bulldozed, the city's elm trees all die off, the amusement park is now an empty lot. The last line is "What a wonderful world it was. We won’t see its like again, I’m afraid."
Dan Brown's Inferno, surprisingly, has one. The villain succeeded in spreading the virus, which cause more than one third of the world infertile. The world's birthing rate have been rapidly decreasing, to the point of population decline even without the virus. The virus was constructed to be untreatable and able to pass down as genetic trait, resulting into a Childless Dystopia.
Shel Silverstein's Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back is about a lion who learns how to use a gun, and ends up travelling to America and becoming a celebrity. He quickly tires of big city life, and a Creator Cameo of "Uncle Shelly" suggests he go on a vacation to relax. Lafcadio ends up going on safari in Africa, where his hunting group runs into his old lion pack. Suddenly torn between his lion friends and his human friends, poor Lafcadio is overcome by existential doubt, and proceeds to throw down his gun and wander off into the African wilderness, never to be heard from again.
C.L Werner's Palace of the Plague Lord, a Warhammer Fantasy novel, has one of the bleakest endings ever written. The protagonist, Einarr Steelfist, has travelled to the eponymous Plague Lord's Palace with his fellowship, including the woman he is falling in love with, and his goal is to steal an ancient artefact of Tzeentch back from the Plague Lord and in exchange his village and wife will be resurrected. His entire fellowship dies in very brutal and gory ways, and their souls are damned to Nurgle's domain, and he himself discovers that he has been tricked by a Daemon into stealing a Nurglite artefact so that Tzeentch can bribe Nurgle with it for support in the coming Storm of Chaos, a war that will see hundreds of thousands dead, and Einarr is no longer useful especially after he tries to blackmail the Daemon by refusing to hand over the artefact, needless to say the Daemon doesn't react well. He is then sent back to the moment when he should have died, and his soul is trapped in the Bloodbeast along with the souls of every one in his village, and they are forever damned to be a part of the Bloodbeast and serve Khorne. To cap off this immense tragedy Einarr's last act before being absorbed fully into the mass of souls that are trapped in the Bloodbeast is to push out to his past self and try to warn him, but he cannot speak and his past self dismisses it as a hallucination and goes off to fight the Bloodbeast where he will die, Tzeentch will save him and the entire thing will begin again. The moral of the story, don't demand anything of the Dark Gods.
Fred Saberhagen generally liked happy endings, but Mindsword's Story, the sixth book in his Books of Lost Swords series, had a huge downer ending. Yes, the primary antagonist Prince Murat has been defeated and killed, but Vilkata and Akbar, who were both much more evil than Murat, are both still at large, the former with the Mindsword and the latter with Shieldbreaker; Princess Kristin has had her legs shattered, crippling her, and she maintains that she is still in love with Murat, long after the Mindsword's powers should have worn off, and she insists that she has divorced Mark, meaning that he is no longer the Prince Consort of Tasavalta, leaving the principality with a huge political crisis. At the end of the novel, Mark is left standing in the rain, wondering what, exactly, he had won.
The Collector: The beautiful and good Miranda could never escape from her horrible imprisonment. She dies a painful death and her kidnapper Frederick is zooming in on future victim who looks just like her. Only she's of lower social standing so he thinks there is a chance she falls for him this time.
Go Ask Alice. At first you think it is going to be a happy ending with the main character changing her life for the better. But then in the epilogue, you find out that she died three weeks later of an overdose. Total wham ending. Claiming it's a real deal real life diary, but at least it didn't really happen.
I Am the Cheese. TAPE OZK016: The final advisory states that because Adam is the final link between Adam's father and File Data 865–01, he recommends that Adam be confined in the facilities until his termination is approved, or until he "obliterates."
Undead on Arrival. Glen Novak finds out that his former student was responsible for getting him bitten by a zombie, and after the kid tearfully apologizes, Novak blows his head off and kills himself.
Casey at the Bat. The final line of the poem: "But there was no joy in Mudville...Mighty Casey had struck out." It was really his own fault for being a Smug Snake and a show off, getting the first two strikes on purpose.
Laughing Winds by Rose Christo ends with the four remaining friends at the concentration camp being put into a gas chamber. Annika watches her friends die one by one, and is powerless to do anything about it, until only she is left, grieving, afraid, and for the first time completely alone. She wavers between hope and fear and grief, but feels as if her friends have returned to comfort her as she too succumbs to the gas, although she admits she's not sure if its just a trick of her mind or not, and she can't see anything, but either way it's not enough to lift it to a Bittersweet ending.
The third book in the Origami Yoda series. The Fortune Wookiee is revealed as a fake made by Sara, and the terrible FunTime program is already set to be instated by Rabbski at the beginning of January. In addition, Tommy has no idea what to do about the impending FunTime program.
In Angelfall, Paige is recovered and can walk again, but now she is an inhuman monster feeding on people. Penryn is badly wounded and is brought back to Obi's camp. Raffe got wings sewn back on, only they aren't his, they're Beliel's bat-like wings, marking him as an outcast.
Knut Hamsun's Victoria is about a miller's son, Johannes, who falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy landowner, Victoria. She has to marry a lieutenant to save the troubled family economy. At the end, when it looks like Johannes and Victoria might finally get to live out their love, she suddenly dies of tuberculosis.
Donna Tartt's The Secret History ends with two members of a close knit group of six friends dead, and the rest with ruined lives. The only hope present is in the form of an ambiguous dream presented at the very end.
"The Bride". The titular bride dies trapped inside of a trunk while playing hide-and-seek, and no one manages to find her until years later when a maid stumbles upon her by accident. By that point, she is merely a skeleton.
"Bess" mixes this with Cruel Twist Ending. John Nicholas is a raiser of horses, and one of those horses, the titular Bess, has just been put down. But that's not the real downer—the downer is when John pats Bess's skull, and he gets fatally bitten by a snake living inside of the skull.
Cilva: Alala's parents die. She dies. And Zoticus is thrown into one of the most grueling battles of the conflict, with no end in sight.
Not too common in Warrior Cats, but in one novella, Cloudstar's Journey, the main character's home is destroyed, he is permanently separated from his mate and kits, he entirely loses his faith in StarClan, and he and his entire Clan are banished from the forest. There's also Hawkwing's Journey: the modern SkyClan has been driven from the gorge, and most of the Clan is dead, missing, or have left. Echosong did eventually receive another prophecy to lead them toward the other Clans, but it's only a tiny spot of hope after the Clan has lost so much.
Of Mice and Men: Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife, leading George to mournfully shoot him in an act of mercy to keep him from getting a grimmer fate.
The second book in Zero Sight ends with the victory of the Bigger Bad, the loss of two teammates and the separation of the main couple because the girl has to face the consequences of breaking the laws of her kin to protect the boy.
The ending of The Hollow Boy, the third book of Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood & Co., has Lucy choose to leave Lockwood and Co. because she feels that her unique talents put the group in danger. It's enough to put George off his cake.
At the end of The Last Battle, the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia, we learn that all the main characters are dead, and were in fact killed near the beginning of the book. It is presented as a happy ending.
Knowledge Of Angels: Palinor is killed, Amara has gone off to live a life of isolation, and an Aclaran fleet is coming to punish the island for Palinor's death.
Frankenstein: Victor's family are all killed by the creature. Victor himself dies of illness after months of pursuing his foe. The creature is last seen ravked with guilt and heading off to the North Pole to commit suicide.
Diaspora: After unknown billions of years spent hunting through trillions of alternate universes, Paolo and Yatima utterly fail to find the Transmuters. They have no way home and realize that humanity would have evolved beyond all recognition in their absence anyway, so Paolo commits suicide and Yatima retreats into a virtual reality to study mathematics for all eternity.
Dreamblood Duology: The Killing Moon, the first volume, ends with Nijiri gatheringnote that is, killing him by sending his soul into Ina-Karekh his beloved mentor Ehiru because the latter has become a Reaper and Gujaareh being conquered by the Kisuati in the name of saving the people of Gujaareh from their own religion.
Enter the X-Men, a Random House children's book adaptation of the "Night of the Sentinels" two-part pilot of the 90's animated cartoon inexplicably has the second half of Part 2 Adapted Out, ending with Jubilee kidnapped, Morph dead, Beast arrested, and Wolverine having his powers drained by Rogue when he attempts to go back for the latter two.
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps: The book ends with what looks like an Ambiguous Ending, but upon closer inspection it's heavily implied that Isa dies at the hands of the second jukiere because he is, for a split second, distracted by Demane arriving at the scene, and Demane is unable to heal him. So Demane has to stay back at the Wildeeps until he has tracked down and killed the remaining jukiere, possibly also dying himself in the process, as the first, older jukiere already took almost all he had to kill. And he has to deal with feeling responsible for his lover's death.
James A. Michener's collection Creatures of the Kingdom, which includes segments from six of his novels and one original story, has more than half of its sixteen stories end this way, as the animal character that the story is focused on either dies or loses a family member.
Diplodocus, the Dinosaur (originally from Centennial): The title character, mortally wounded, goes back into the swamp and dies.
A Miracle of Evolution (originally from Centennial): Covers the evolution of the horse, and follows the life of one in particular, ending in his being killed by wolves, just as his mate and colt had.
Matriarch, the Woolly Mammoth (originally from Alaska): Ends with the mammoths encountering the humans who kill one and will eventually drive the species to extinction.
Portrait of Rufous (originally from Centennial): Ends with the death of the title bison after he's become an outcast from his herd.
The Beaver (originally from Centennial): ends with the title character losing her mate and any chance at having any more children beyond the single litter she already had.
The Eagle and the Snake (originally from Centennial): follows a rattlesnake, and ends with it being killed by a human; the sub-segment Epilogue: The Death of Elly Zahm ends with the title character (and her unborn child) being killed by a different rattlesnake.
The Hyena (originally from The Covenant): The title character dies before he and his human companion can return to the man's home.
Nerka the Salmon (originally from Alaska): Follows the life cycle of a single Sockeye salmon, from his birth to his death after spawning.
Jimmy the Crab (originally from Chesapeake): Ends with the deaths of the title character and his mate as they couple; their deaths are due to a hurricane having caused massive flooding, and the floodwater carried a great deal of sewage with it into the Chesapeake Bay where the two crabs lived, poisoning its waters and the majority of its wildlife.