Years pass. Then the author decides to return to the story, and a sequel or semi-sequel is released. It turns out Bob did win, Alice did make it out alive, the world found out about the truth, and everyone got their happy ending. This isn't just Word of God — the sequel itself shows us what happened after the end of the first story.
Compare I Knew It!, which is about fan theories being proved right, whereas a Belated Happy Ending is specifically about the characters (regardless of fan theories). See also Maybe Ever After, an ending which this trope can resolve. The inversion is Happy Ending Override where the heroes' victory and happy ending is turned into dust and ruins.
Since this is an ending trope, needless to say there will be unmarked spoilers ahead.
- The ending of Digimon Tamers was fairly ambiguous, but then the sixth movie came out, showing that everyone did, indeed, reunite with their Digimon.
- Patlabor: In the OVA continuity, officers Noa Izumi and Asuma Shinohara were partners, though the chemistry between them and several episodes implied it might've gone deeper than that. But the lack of any outward signs of affection and the series' ending left the official status of their relationship in question. The Next Generation -Patlabor- is set 15 years after the OVA and serves as its Distant Finale. During which, it's revealed that Noa eventually married Asuma sometime after the OVA's conclusion.
- Mahou Sensei Negima! ended with a ton of unanswered questions and offscreen happenings, namely who Negi liked and how the Lifemaker was defeated respectively. The Stealth Sequel UQ Holder! has answered most of the lingering plot threads and gave definitive answers to who Negi was attracted to and showed how the Lifemaker was ultimately taken care of.
- In Adventure Time, the defeat of the Eldritch Abomination Legion of Doom in the "Dungeon Masters" arc releases Gata, Finn's and Jake's erased adopted sister from an earlier arc, from her status as a doomed Apocalypse Maiden and allows her to fully exist without causing horrible consequences, although it doesn't appear that the other characters recover their memories of their previous times with her.
- In ElfQuest, the original authors eventually got back to writing the comics, and saved several characters who were Left Hanging in old plotlines: Ahdri gets rescued from the caves in which she was trapped for centuries, Strongbow and Moonshade are granted another daughter, and The Broken One finally gets healed.
- Little Orphan Annie ended with Annie in the hands of a notorious assassin, who while he wouldn't kill her because she was a kid, still refused to let her go because she might report him to the authorities, so she was stuck with him. Daddy Warbucks, meanwhile, had assumed her to be dead, and gave up hope of ever seeing her again. A crossover with Dick Tracy a few years later finally reunited the two in a Fully Absorbed Finale.
- A Crown of Stars:
- In 2009 a fan wrote a real depressing and dark story called "A Throne Of Bayonets". Five years later another fan read the story, thought the main characters deserved a happier ending than being two broken wreckes, and wrote an authorized sequel where they get slowly over their worst traumas and fix their strained relationship.
- In a short scene the main characters of "The Way Out Is Through", a fic written in 2008, also appear and are given a chance to have a happy ending.
- Back in 2006 Asatsuki Dou released a horribly depressing Touhou doujin called "Happiness". Not quite two years later they released "Happy End", which exists entirely to give "Happiness" a happy ending.
- At the end of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (one of the sequels to Final Fantasy VII), Aerith and Zack are finally shown to be reunited in the afterlife. And it isn't until the end of the film that Cloud shed the emotional hangups that kept him from being with Tifa and embracing a more proactive role in healing the world.
- For the 2006 rerelease of The Nightmare Before Christmas, the new soundtrack includes (among a few other new additions) a new spoken word epilogue with Sir Patrick Stewart playing Santa Claus, which manages to conclude Jack and Santa's relationship on a far happier note than the movie did. In the epilogue, Jack and Sally are Happily Married with children, the Holidays have all become aware of each other, and Santa and Jack have put aside their differences and become dear friends. It concludes on a heartwarming note, making it clear that Santa has forgiven Jack, and that Jack doesn't regret a single moment of his one and only Christmas.
"Would you do the whole thing all over again?
Knowing what you know now, knowing what you knew then?"
And he smiled like the old Pumpkin King that I knew,
Then turned and asked softly of me... "Wouldn't you?"
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. To start, Douglas Adams had expressed the desire to continue after Mostly Harmless' Downer Ending, but Author Existence Failure caught up with him. One of his acquaintances, Eoin Colfer, was then given the rights to finish it by Adams' widow, and the book, And Another Thing..., ends on a fairly happy ending compared to the previous one.
- A sequel to The Darksword Trilogy was written a few years after the series was completed, in which Simkin turns out to be alive, the war is finally settled, and Joram gets to finish all of his unfinished business.
- In William Goldman's Brothers, Scylla (a character who was thought to have died in Marathon Man) is brought back, and finally gets a chance to reunite with Marathon Man's main character, Babe. Then the world ends.
- Another William Goldman example: In Buttercup's Baby, the short story sequel to The Princess Bride, we find out that the characters did escape from being chased by Humperdinck in the original novel's open ending. Buttercup and Westley have a baby (as the title says). Interestingly, the story also wraps up some plot elements from Goldman's unrelated novel Control, although it's a bit of a Gainax Ending.
- The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte has a group of bibliophiles competing over the collection of rare manuscripts. One of them is a treatise on sword fighting. Its author is Don Astarloa, the main character from his previous book The Fencing Master, who'd spent most of the story trying to write a treatise on fencing. Apparently he finally finished it.
- The ending of Lois Lowry's The Giver is extremely ambiguous and heavily implies that Jonas and Gabriel die. In the last two books of the quartet, Messenger and Son, we learn that they both survive, and that Jonas manages to become leader of his community before setting it aside to start a family with Kira, and Gabe reunites with his birthmother.
- Blindness: One person regained her sight in the end of the novel, but the sequel takes place years after forgetting the whole incident.
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit ends with the title character sick and in trouble with his mother for losing his clothes. Its sequel, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, shows that Peter was traumatised by the events of the first book, but his mother forgives him when he recovers his clothes. He grows up to be Older and Wiser in later books, and has a happy life as a successful cabbage farmer and Cool Uncle to Benjamin's children.
- In Goethe's Faust, Mephisto takes Faust with him at the end, while Gretchen dies. In the sequel, Faust gets saved by... supernatural means.
- In the Christmas Special of The Office (UK) (which was filmed after the main series was completed), Tim and Dawn finally get together.
- Anthony in The Royle Family spends his teen years being ignored, lightly bullied by his father and unemployed. When he does married and get a good job, his wife cheats on him and leaves him. Then he meets Saskia, a beautiful nurse, falls in love and has another kid.
- After the Maybe Ever After that closes Spaced, the "Skip to the End" documentary demonstrates that Tim and Daisy eventually had a little girl together and are still living in the same flat.
- In How I Met Your Mother, Marshall's boss Arthur Hobbs lost his beloved dog Tugboat to his wife when they got a divorce, which he didn't take very well in season 6. We find out that by the time that Robin and Barney were engaged, he had gotten back custody of Tugboat.
- The episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles documenting the Battle of the Somme (after which the surviving Allied soldiers are all taken prisoner by the Germans), it is heavily implied that Indy's Belgian friend Remy is shot dead amidst the chaos; Indy doesn't meet up with him in the prison camp in the next episode. Soon afterward the series was cancelled...only to be (sort of) revived a few years later as a series of made-for-TV movies. In one of them, the war ends and Indy and Remy are happily reunited.
- The Doctor and River Song's relationship in Doctor Who ultimately has a Bittersweet Ending — the first time he meets her as Ten is the last time she meets him; their relationship hasn't happened yet on his end. He manages to upload her into the Library after her death, and from there his Eleventh self learns how she came to exist, fall in love with him, and so forth. But by the time his televised tenure is over, there is one key event not revealed — the circumstances of his second-to-last meeting with her, a dinner date at the Singing Towers of Darillium. It was suggested that this happened offscreen, but two-plus years after the last story to feature her ("The Name of the Doctor", the Series 7 finale) came the Christmas Episode "The Husbands of River Song" (which aired post-Series 9). This episode reveals that Eleven kept putting off the date; rather, the Twelfth Doctor fulfills that meeting...in fact, he engineers it (and the circumstances of her being uploaded) based on the knowledge he's had since "Silence in the Library" when a starliner they happen to be on crashes on Darillium. And a night on Darillium lasts 24 years, so River Song finally has a full measure of happiness with her "sweetie" at last, fulfilling this trope — in fact, the episode ends on the text "And they lived Happily Ever After...", though by way of acknowledging the fundamental bittersweetness of it all, the words dissolve first to "And they lived happily", and then to just "happily".
- The cancellation of Veronica Mars after its third season didn't leave much room for any resolution, let alone a happy one. Six years later, nearly nine years have passed in-universe when Veronica returns home in an ending. She gives up her normal life of soon becoming a New York corporate lawyer (quitting with job offers from prestigious firms and an impending Bar exam in the near future) to start her life of a private investigator anew. Even though her father is less than thrilled and she has left behind a life of privilege and a semi-stable relationship, and is now addled with student loans, the tie-in book sequels make it clear that this homecoming is the closest she has come to peace. And even though his military life separates Logan from her twice in the span of a year, this is the closest any of them have ever come to a happy ending in Neptune, CA.
- In Jimmy Dean's famous country song "Big Bad John", a heroic miner holds up the roof of a collapsing mine for long enough to everyone else to get out alive, but is killed himself. In the less well-known Sequel Song, "The Cajun Queen", his wife arrives, digs down to the bottom of the mine, and rescues him, bringing him back to life with True Love's Kiss.
- The Final Fantasy games feature many examples.
- Final Fantasy X-2: The first game ended on a bittersweet note with Tidus disappearing. The sequel sets to rectify this and, while the conflict the protagonists face is pretty big, it doesn't reach the heights of the previous game — the Big Bad is a dangerously powerful machine as opposed to an Eldritch Abomination that can't be killed. There are multiple endings for the player to get and most of them (bar one bad ending you get if you lose the Final Battle) are happy. The player can choose whether or not Yuna can reunite with Tidus and if she doesn't, the ending is still uplifting because she has moved on.
- In Final Fantasy V, Gilgamesh was lost to the Void. Three games later, in Final Fantasy VIII, he returned - and has appeared in pretty much every Final Fantasy game since. Even, retroactively, the ones before V. Then Dissidia 012 Duodecim came out, and revealed, once and for all, that Gilgamesh is'' alive. Wandering dimensions at the mercy of the Rift, but alive, and determined to get back home.
- The ending of Final Fantasy VII was vague as to the outcome of the cast and human beings in general. A post-credits scene which showed exactly ONE of the party members still alive 500 years later (A slow aging lion-type creature) did little to answer questions as to the fate of the cast either. Cue the eventual Compilation EIGHT years later, which finally set the record straight.
- In Vagrant Story (which takes place centuries after Final Fantasy Tactics), various item descriptions mention the Zodiac Brave Story from the first game, naming Agrias, Orlandu and several others as well-known heroes. That means the Durai report from Tactics, containing a true account of what happened during the war, was eventually accepted as historical canon.
- Related to the above, we only found out Ramza and Alma survived the events of Final Fantasy Tactics 15 years after the game's initial release, courtesy of a Twitter post Yasumi Matsuno made on Valentine's Day 2012.
- In Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal (the expansion pack to the second game), Sarevok, the villain from the first game, can finally find redemption.
- Akiha's True Ending in Tsukihime is rather bittersweet at best and very ambiguous on whether or not Shiki is even alive. The sequel/sidestory Kagetsu Tohya then had the short story "A Story for the Evening" which follows said ending. It reveals that he is alive.
- The True Ending of the first route in Fate/stay night ends with Saber and Shirou separated. Saber dies in the past and Shirou resolves to follow his dream, which is heavily deconstructed in the other routes with the implication that he'll ultimately end up following a similar path to Archer. The Realta Nua version has a Golden Ending where the two are reunited in Avalon, which also reveals Shirou didn't go down the same path as Archer because he had the goal to finally reunite with her].
- Mass Effect 3 is an unusual case, as virulently hostile fan reaction to the original ambiguous-to-depressing potential range of endings led to the release of postscript DLC that improved it. A short turnaround time later and most of the endings are clarified to being some form of everything is eventually rebuilt and life goes on in peace, with the exception of one which is a flat-out Downer Ending (but can only be achieved with the very specific outcomes of you have the bare-minimum War Assets and choose the Destroy ending).
- Persona 4: While the original game concluded rather bittersweetly, with the protagonist leaving Inaba, possibly forever, with the reassurance that neither he nor the friends he made would ever forget their happy times together, subsequent releases, from Arena to The Golden have all-but reversed that initial conclusion by allowing the Protagonist to repeatedly visit Inaba and generally keep in touch with everyone even years later, confirming his lifelong friendships with all involved].
- Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) ends with Sonic erasing the events of the game from history... Except for Silver, who remains living in the Crapsack World of his time, and with his best friend Blaze now living in another dimension. Come Sonic Generations in 2011, Silver is reunited with Sonic & Blaze, and instead of returning to his own time at the end of the game, winds up living in the present with the Bad Future he comes from no longer a possibility. And he was also Rescued from the Scrappy Heap, too.
- Happens a lot in Silent Hill games. They all have Multiple Endings, but occasionally a sequel to an older game will confirm one of those endings directly or indirectly - usually for the better. Examples include:
- Silent Hill 3 confirmed the Good (or Good+) ending of Silent Hill by showing Harry and Alessa/Cheryl/Heather had survived four years after the original game was released. Similarly, Silent Hill: Homecoming confirmed the Normal endings for both Silent Hill 3 (mentioning Douglas' work had brought The Order's downfall, indicating his - and therefore Heather's - survival) and Silent Hill: Origins (protagonist Travis Grady shows up visibly aged, though alive and well, for a cameo).
- Subverted with Silent Hill 4, though, which further confirms the worst possible ending available for Silent Hill 2 - that James is missing, having probably committed suicide. Maybe. The only thing that Silent Hill 4 makes clear is that James never returned to his old life; SH2's creative director has gone on record that there is no official canon ending to James' story, and players were meant to choose whichever ending that offers the best closure for themselves, so whether James drowned himself in Toluca Lake, remained in the town to try and revive Mary, or left with Maria or Laura to start over again depends on what one personally feels he should have done.
- Dragon Age: Inquisition's DLC Trespasser gives one to counter the Downer Ending that Dragon Age II ends with: Varric inadvertently ends up becoming Viscount of Kirkwall when his complaints about one of his schemes being stymied by there being no official Viscount in the town and the complaint being misinterpreted as a volunteering for the post, and, depending on the state of things with the other DA2 companions, his auspices give them a chance of a good life.
- Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon has Armaldo, who last seen in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers being arrested as an outlaw and forced to give up teaching Igglybuff exploring, now living a free and honest life as an explorer and befriended another Igglybuff as shown in his rescue mission.
- The final Segata Sanshiro commercial had him sacrifice his life to prevent a missile from destroying the Sega headquarters. Fourteen years later, however, Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed revealed that, against all odds, he survived - his vehicle in that game is the missile. Likewise, Project X Zone 2 further confirms his survival (and he's even managed to ditch the missile somewhere).
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has potentially this scenario if Geralt romanced Yennefer or Triss, but got the Downer Ending in the base game. Completing the Blood and Wine DLC expansion has whichever Geralt romanced show up at his vineyard at Corvo Bianco. Yennefer even moves in with him.