The end came and the Earth died. A catastrophe of irrevocable proportions makes the planet unsuitable for large scale civilization— or even life. It can be self inflicted from our abuse, negligence and wars, or external by aliens, astronomical phenomena, or other causes. Usually, a mass exodus occurs where survivors settle on a new planet in an extrasolar system (though a Terraformed Mars is a popular in-system option), sometimes all over the galaxy, and live on. Perhaps a little wiser, or perhaps doomed to repeat our mistakes. During the course of generations the Earth will leave fact and become legend; a mythical place of endless blue and green and Crystal Spires and Togas. How much of this will be Revisionist History, propaganda, or simple nostalgia varies by setting.
If the location of the Earth is lost, finding the lost human homeworld will become a momentous occasion if not an outright quest. If it was thought to be destroyed, then don't be surprised if it is later revealed to not have been destroyed after all.
For some reason most TV and movies that feature large-scale colonization of other planets (not just mining) require a dead or dying earth as part of the background. Possibly due to either the current stagnation of the space program, suggesting that humanity would need a catastrophe to get off-world; or the current association of the word "colonies" with The Empire and thus evil.
The trope name comes from Firefly and Serenity.
A version where Earth is abandoned but the solar system has not is known as "Earthless circumsolar civilization fiction."
See also You Can't Go Home Again, A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far Far Away..., Insignificant Little Blue Planet, Future Imperfect. A form of Class 6 Apocalypse How.
For the milder version, see Earth That Used to Be Better, where the Earth is still known and inhabited, but is no longer the center of humanity.
Freedom Project: All of the surviving humans live in a colony on the dark side of the moon. Many assumed that the Earth was dead, uninhabitable by nuclear fallout. But a chance encounter by a picture strapped on a toy rocket changed one man's life, and the entire colony as well.
Trigun doesn't go into much detail as to why Humanity had to leave Earth, but hundreds of colony ships spent years searching for a suitable new planet to sustain them, while the great majority of humanity was suspended in frozen animation. Gunsmoke was that planet. only ONE ship actually survived Knive's attempt at destroying them all.
In Sol Bianca, the treasure in the first episode turns out to be a time capsule from Earth. In the prequel series Sol Bianca: The Legacy, the main plot is the crew of the eponymous space ship's quest to discover the ultimate fate of Earth.
In Knights Of Sidonia, the Gauna are presumed to have killed everyone on Earth a long time ago.
Slowly revealed throughout Vandread. Earth that was is now a giant polluted Eternal Engine where the Moon is forcibly buried within it. Most people left it in colonial ships, several of which settled in space stations or even planets, like Taraak and Mejeiru. Those that remain on Earth were the architects of the Harvester fleet, to literally harvest body parts for their continued existence.
The 90's anime movie E.Y.E.S. of Mars dealt with an inversion of this as well as an environmental Aesop. Humanity ended up finding a way to build a city on Mars, located entirely inside a crater, covered with a dome to keep out the uninhabitable environment. Deep down below the city was a thriving forest and an academy where certain children ended up developing special powers. The city itself was polluted to extremely unhealthy levels and was being run by a corrupt government with continually mounting tensions all around. Being inside a completely enclosed system meant that they had no way to filter the air pollution and had very limited recycling abilities to filter clean water or let food grow. Some of the children's powers allowed them to see the history of their people. Originally, Humans migrated to Mars from a planet located between Mars and Jupiter known as Titan. The planet was completely destroyed by war, and what remains is now the asteroid belt. One child discovered that the same situation was going to happen to the city, killing off everyone again. Turns out it does. The entire city is completely destroyed, but the main character's special power allowed all of humanity's souls to travel to Earth where Homo Sapiens were just beginning to evolve.
In Suisei no Gargantia, Earth is only a legend to the Human Galactic Alliance, the civilization the protagonist Ledo hails from. Nobody bothers looking for it because it is believed to have completely frozen over. That part is actually true: Earth did go into a massive Ice Age that forced the majority of humanity to leave it behind. However, in the time since, it has thawed and is once again teeming with life, albeit mostly aquatic life.
In the rebooted Rogue Trooper, Earth is abandoned and used exclusively as a testing ground for the Norts' and Southers' new weapons.
In The Age Of Dusk, Earth (and the rest of the Solar System for that matter) has been completely corrupted by Chaos to the point that not even Chaos Marines can survive there.
Terra was a dark crown rotting towards the centre of the horrific churning nightmare. It had consumed its sister Venus and Mercury; huge chains and hooked fronds had drawn them into the world and pounded them like clay, into new and dreadful forms. Luna was swallowed whole, before forming a giant lidless eye that wept oceans of pus into the void, which formed wailing pus-devils of nuglitch heritage that consumed themselves within moments.
WALL•E - Humanity relocates to ships like the Axiom for 700 years.
Jason X has college students of the future and their professor going on a field trip to a ruined Earth.
In Battle for Terra, Earth, Mars and Venus have all been blown up, so humans go to the eponymous planet to find a new home.
In After Earth, Earth as a planet is fine, it's just that it isn't inhabited by humans anymore.
In Oblivion2013, Earth was nearly destroyed during a war against a race of alien invaders known as Scavengers. They were only defeated by the use of nuclear weapons, which left most of the planet irradiated and uninhabitable. Or at least that's the version the protagonist was told. Suffice it to say that it turned out to be a bit more complicated than that.
In Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat books, Earth was lost even before the Breakdown, and it's unclear whether it was actually called "Earth" or "Dirt". (In a later book, the Rat actually has to go to Earth through a timewarp to warn of its impending doom. So it was destroyed)
Isaac Asimov's Foundation series features this, with an entire book devoted to finding "Earth", humanity's original planet, as well as "Gaia", a separate world populated by a Group Mind. There are plenty of nods to the fourth wall, as characters scoff at this planet which "supposedly had one moon a quarter of its size" and "was in a solar system with another planet that had huge rings." Scholars of the Galactic Empire debate the very existence of a single human homeworld, the Empire having existed for so many thousands of years that most worlds have long since lost any sense of themselves being "colonies". In the later Foundation books, it is revealed that Earth has become an uninhabitable, radioactive wasteland. Interestingly, while in the earlier-set stories (in particular the pre-Foundation Empire novels) Earth's status as the homeworld is questioned or even ridiculed, by the last two Earth appears to be recognized by the scientific community as the original human world — it's just that the where of Earth has been lost along the way.
Happens multiple times in A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge: The Earth is said to have been recolonized three times after the previous colony could no longer support itself. This also happens to basically every other planet humans colonize, and in A Fire Upon the Deep is stated to be the fate of all civilizations in the Slow Zone. Eventually, interstellar civilization collapses and humans settle on Nyjora, and end up rediscovering space travel and abandoning Nyjora in exactly the same way.
This happens during Blue Mars: The Earth is now becoming overpopulated so humanity is forced to move to the other planets.
In Lord of Light, human colonists from 'Urath' recreate the Hindu pantheon on another planet.
In The Mote in God's Eye Earth is mostly a wasteland from a hellish final war. The military academy of the successor empires are located there as a reminder to cadets what they're fighting to avoid.
In Andre Norton's novel The Beast Master, in the backstory the alien Xik performed a "burnoff" of the surface of the Earth, killing all humans living on it. Luckily the human race had already spread out to other planets in the galaxy.
In the process of happening in David Gerrold's The War Against the Chtorr series as an alien race is "unterraforming" Earth into their native environment, and plans are being made to relocate to the Moon.
Alan Dean Foster's short story Dream Done Green, has Earth lost, and then found to be a complete wasteland. The rest of the story involves the terraforming process.
In a Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, human colonists on Mars watch in disbelief as an accidental nuclear war lights up and completely cleanses the Earth's surface. Many of them return home initially, but the survivors of the war return to Mars.
In the novelizations of Red Dwarf, Earth was eventually abandoned and used as a garbage dump by the rest of the inhabited solar system, before some of the volatile waste exploded and flung it out of the solar system (possibly a reference to Space1999). Lister later crash-lands on it and has an Earth All Along moment.
The Ring of Ritornel opens with the planet Terror having been wrecked by nuclear bombardment and about to be chucked into a black hole. "Terror" being a corruption of "Terra".
The Remnants series begins with the Earth being hit by an asteroid, and shattering. Five hundred people escape the destruction on the Mayflower spacecraft. Later, the few remaining space-colonists from the Mayflower, awakened from their suspended animation, return to the shattered rock that was Earth. Turns out not everyone on Earth was killed; some semblance of human society still struggles on. And still more people die, because it's that kind of series.
Old Earth still exists in the Dune universe, but is apparently wild and uninhabited, with an ecosystem only just recovering from whatever destroyed it. Its existence is not a secret, but few people visit it. In the prequel series by the author's son, it's revealed that Earth's surface was deliberately nuked by humans in their war against thinking machines, but these books' canonicity is dubious.
In Steven Brust's sci-fi work Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, the staff of the eponymous time- and space-travelling restaurant is trying to find out, among other things, whether or not the Earth is still around and still viable. Nope. It was nuked.
Steven Gould's Helm begins in a Moon base shortly after Earth was driven into nuclear winter by a war fought with antimatter weapons.
In the Dumarest of Terra series, Earl Dumarest is seeking Earth, where he was born, which is barely a rumor or legend in the parts of the galaxy where he now is.
In the "The Homecoming Saga", a series of 5 novels by Orson Scott Card, the Earth was rendered uninhabitable by human wars, and mankind departed for Harmony, as well as at least forty other planets.
In Walter Jon Williams' Aristoi, Earth was destroyed by Grey Goo, leading to the reorganization of society into essentially a confederation of feudal states, with each state's leader (the Aristoi in question) being the only ones allowed to use nanotechnology freely.
In Last and First Men the Fifth Men migrate to Venus when the moon (destabilized millions of years earlier in the Martian/Second Men war) starts to crash into the earth. And the eighth men design the ninth to colonize Neptune when the sun expands to cover the Inner System.
Kobol, the human homeworld in the new Battlestar Galactica, is revealed to have suffered a nuclear war several millennia in its past. While inhabitable now, it was necessary to leave at the time, and is even "cursed" to exact blood from those who return. It no longer remains to be seen if the 13th colony known as Earth is also a radioactive wasteland.
What exactly occurred on Kobol is far from clear. With the apparent 'Cycle of Time' the humans and Cylons exist in, it could have been nuclear in origin, as happened to the Colonies as well, but apart from references to a 'Blaze' that pursued the tribes on Kobol and a 'Flood' that wiped out most of humanity specific references have been thin on the ground, likely as the characters have no way of knowing either.
In Earth 2 humanity has largely abandoned a hopelessly polluted Earth, and is in the process of colonizing Earth 2.
Although likely to be averted, the Earth is faced with this fate in Crusade, having been contaminated with a slow-acting bioweapon that is expected to destroy all life within 5 years. As the planet is under strict quarantine by other races, off-world humans are effectively cut off from their species' homeworld, as surely as if it was already dead or lost.
Word of God on the Drakh Plague is that it would have been cured somewhere mid-S2, allowing other plot threads to take over, most notably a conspiracy within the Earth Gov to use Shadow technology.
A surprisingly consistent point of future history in Doctor Who foretells the mass evacuation of Earth around the thirtieth century, to avoid solar flares. The fourth Doctor encounters a wheel-type space station full of sleepers in The Ark In Space, and the Eleventh meets the Starship UK in "The Beast Below", but it comes up in other episodes as well.
Later on, we move back in. Later later on, we move back out and leave it as a museum. Then the donations dry up and it finally dies. Of old age (more specifically, it's incinerated when the Sun goes Red Giant.)
If the Expanded Universe sources are to be believed, Earth is abandoned and recolonized quite a few times.
The Doctor's homeworld of Gallifrey has become this in the revived series, having been razed by the Doctor at the end of the Last Great Time War, wiping out both the Time Lords and the Daleks in one fell swoop and leaving him the sole survivor of the conflict. (Or so he thought).
The BBC show Outcasts is set during the early days of the colonisation of a new planet, Carpathia. Bit different to typical examples in that Earth is still inhabited, but people are gradually fleeing it. Exact details of Earth's buggering-up are skated over, but there are passing mentions of a failed climate-change summit in Norway, uprisings in Shanghai, a major earthquake devastating California, etc.
The whole point of the Terracide setting (for 6th edition Hero System). Humans had started to spread among the stars after getting their hands on faster-than-light drives, but most of them still had at least sentimental ties to Earth until an unknown force sterilized the entire Sol system.
In Finnish RPG Heimot mankind left from Earth thousands of years ago and later all life on Earth was destroyed in a catastrophe. Now, after collapse of society, lost of star gates, surviving an alien invasion and fighting over remaining resources many people believe that Lost Earth is a paradise, where they will be led by the Messiah.
In the Exalted science fantasy alternate setting Heaven's Reach, Creation was lost a long time ago, and its location - even whether it still exists or not - is unknown.
SimEarth: Shortly after the sentient species reaches the nanotech age, they will leave the planet in droves. Subverted in the sense that the planet doesn't have to be a wasteland for this to happen.
Freelancer, where descendants of The Alliance survivors have vague memories of Earth after their ancestors are forced to abandon the Solar System by the forces of the Coalition. Also, Earth is actually destroyed in the original intro for the game, which was cut from the final release.
The Alliance actually launched the sleeper ships to escape the eternal war between themselves and the Coalition (which the Coalition was winning).
Warframe: Earth is stated to have been a desolate hellhole before the fascist Grineer took it over. From space, you can see it's an unhealthy green...
Freespace, where the destruction of the Lucifer seals off Earth from the rest of the galaxy, leaving its fate an opened ended question until the second game, where the Ancient's Knossos Device, discovered in Gamma Draconis, offered hope to reestablish contact with Sol. If that would have worked will remain unanswered, however, as the third game was never made. It is mentioned in the Encyclopedia Exposita that Earth most likely didn't survive. Earth was a political and cultural centre, not an agricultural or industrial one, so the probable result of the jump node collapse is famine, disease and societal collapse.
Homeworld follows the spirit of the trope if not the letter. Gameplay concerns the quest of the Kushan people to return to their homeworld, which they were exiled from thousands of years ago after losing a war. Having said that, their home planet is not Earth and the Kushan are not specified to be human. (Though they do speak English.)
In Lunar, the humans of Lunar came from the Blue Star, which has become a frozen wasteland recovering from a battle between Althena and Zophar. For bonus points, the Blue Star is a dead ringer for Earth.
Earth, or Lost Jerusalem as it's called, is referred to often in Xenosaga. Humans had to leave it because of a mysterious space-time disturbance. Its location has been long lost. At the end of the third game a chunk of the party goes off searching for it, and we're left wanting another sequel.
The backstory for its spiritual prequel, Xenogears, is similar. Humans left Earth in AD 2510 due to a space-time anomaly. The only reference to Earth in the game, though, is in the intro, and it is called "the main planet."
The Spiritual SequelXenoblade Chronicles X, Earth is outright destroyed as collateral damage due to a war between two alien factions. Humanity flees in colony ships before that happens, but they're harassed by one of the alien factions, and one of the ships crash land on an uninhabited planet, and the game starts with the main character awakening on this planet.
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri starts with Humankind leaving the Earth in the UN Unity spaceship towards Planet, near the Alpha Centauri system. The epilogue story once you reach the Transcendence Victory reveals the Earth humans nuked themselves to oblivion. It gets better, though - the same ending tells us Earth gets recolonised. The pitch of the entire game, in fact, is to put this twist to the Spaceship Victory from the Civilization series.
Subverted in the Spiritual SuccessorCivilization: Beyond Earth. While the trailer clearly shows the Earth in the middle of an ecological catastrophe, and the new colony is completely cut off from the homeworld, two of the endings allow you to open a portal back to Earth.
It is mentioned that earth in Space Colony is 'no longer economically viable'. Rich people live in space stations, with the poor taking risky lander jobs to harvest resources.
In EVE Online, the original introduction explains that humanity left Earth, 'a world outgrown', over 20 000 years ago and started colonizing the entire galaxy. Eventually we found a wormhole leading to what is presumably a completely different galaxy and colonized it as well, before the wormhole collapsed, leaving the inhabitants of this new galaxy cut off from the Milky Way. The very existence of Earth and the Milky Way has been forgotten or turned into myths and legends during the dark age that followed the collapse of the wormhole.
In Outpost 2 the human race has fled from an asteroid-doomed earth. The plot of the game revolves around the earthling colonists of a new planet and how they destroy themselves all over again.
In Wild ARMs 3, we find out that not only is Filgaia a Lost Colony of Earth, but that the homeworld was rendered lifeless in wars following some of its people upgrading themselves into battle-crazy "Metal Demons."
UFO: Aftermath kicks off the After Blank series with an alien race, the Reticulans, killing off nearly all life on Earth, with only a handful of humans and mutants left on the planet. Although humanity survived, civilization as we know it is over.
Another non-Earth example: The D'ni of the Myst series originated on a world called Garternay, which became uninhabitable when its sun began growing dim. Their ancestors fled into a succession of other worlds via their linking books, and have since lost all contact with their abandoned homeworld.
In Gaiares, pollution and radiation have turned the Earth into an uninhabitable wasteland. An alien empire is prepared to destroy the planet by blowing up the Sun to stop intergalactic terrorists who want to reclaim the toxic waste for superweapons.
Starflight kicks off with this scenario happening... Again, since Earth had been long abandoned and humanity needs to find new planets to populate now that their new homeworld is dying.
In Mass Effect, the quarians were forced to evacuate Rannoch after their disastrous war with the geth, three hundred years ago. While Rannoch is still inhabitable (and even being maintained), trying to get past the billions of heavily armed synthetics has proven somewhat problematic. Mostly because it never occurred to the quarians to just ask nicely, though given that anyone who travelled to Geth Space never came back, except that one time as husks, there's a reason for that.
While most characters in Infinite Space are aware that the humans of the Magellanic Clouds originally came from the Milky Way, it's not really relevant to the plot. Until the very end when they discover that the universe-building aliens shutting down their universe have their entry point in the old Solar System. The sun has been encapsulated in a Dyson Sphere to power their gate, and the Earth may or may not have much life left on it.
In Strange Adventures In Infinite Space and its sequel/remake, humanity's new homeworld is Hope with the player being sent to explore the new region of space. The location of Earth is lost to time, although one of the objects you can find is the Voyager Golden Record.
In Orion's Arm Old Earth was abandoned after the nanodisaster, because the AI that was designed to protect Earth from Grey Goo decided humanity was the greatest threat to Earth (at least she was considerate enough to make enough ships for us).
Afterwards pretty much every mass in the Solar system large enough to support a habitat was colonized. Mars hasn't been fully terraformed due to most of the inhabitants being genetically engineered to survive there, Venus just finished terraforming and has a population of two billion (largest population of any one body in the system), but most of the population is in the Asteroid belt.
Of course, after 10,000 years of interstellar expansion Sol has been all but reduced to a tourist trap.
Granted, Old Earth is still inhabitable, it's just no one's allowed to live there anymore.
It's mentioned that by the "present day" of the setting (approx. 12,000 AD) that the AI had mellowed down somewhat and now allows a limited number of tourists, pilgrims and scientists to a limited number of areas on Earth. She even went through the trouble of preserving or restoring some culturally significant human sites such as Mecca or Cape Canaveral.