A team falls apart after the heart or their magnetic hero dies, leaves, or ascends to a higher plane of existence. Without his or her unifying influence, there isn't much holding them together anymore, so they drift apart to pursue their own endeavors.
We Cannot Go On Without You is a video game-specific subtrope, where the protagonist's death ends the game even if companions are still alive. Presumably they drift apart immediately, without even stopping to use a Phoenix Down.
If the hero comes Back from the Dead, expect Putting the Band Back Together. Compare The Fellowship Has Ended, when the team was held together by a unifying purpose rather than a particular member, and Losing the Team Spirit.
Be warned, this is often a death trope.
- When Taichi was dragged back to the real world in Digimon Adventure, the time inconsistency meant that the remaining Chosen slowly split apart over the course of a month or so, partially of their own devices and partially because of the influence of PicoDevimon, to the point that Takeru and Tokomon, formerly very close, even got mad at and left each other. When he makes his way back, much of the next arc is him (and Sora, acting as a Mysterious Protector) trying to regroup the Chosen even as PicoDevimon continues trying to tear them apart.
- Pretty much the entire plot of Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day. A group of childhood friends drifted apart when they were young because one of them died, and now are slowly getting together after the appearance of the ghost of their dead friend.
- This, combined with other incidents, is what leads to most of Tenchi's gathering of girls to go off halfway through Tenchi in Tokyo. Once Washu figures out what's going on and Tenchi and Sasami end up in trouble, they start to return.
- In One Piece, the Sun pirates were a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits under Fisher Tiger who managed to keep different factions like the Arlong pirates and the Macro pirates under his control despite a precarious A House Divided situation. After Tiger's death, Jinbe became a new captain who was able to gain command of the crew for a while, but eventually the Sun pirates were disbanded.
- Berserk: Griffith's Band of the Hawk has just won a decades-long war for their employer the king of Midland, who gratefully promotes Griffith and his top followers to the peerage. Guts decides at this point to leave on a one-man journey to discover his own dream, but Griffith forbids it, willing to kill him before he'll let him go. Guts easily beats Griffith, causing a mental breakdown that leads to him sleeping with the Midland princess, who had a crush on him. He is found out and arrested, while the Hawks barely escape a massacre by the army: many members subsequently desert, while Griffiths deputy Casca takes over those who remain. About a year later, Guts hears about the Hawks' plight and shows up to join their mission to rescue Griffith. They succeed, but it turns out that Griffith has been crippled and tortured to the point where he can't speak, walk, or move his arms, let alone lead a mercenary company to victory. Casca is too worn out from the past years ordeals to continue leading them, and everyone including her was only able to make it that far because they thought Griffith was going to return as their charismatic, genius leader. The Band of the Hawk ceases to exist, and its members start splitting up into different groups to go their separate ways, until everything is rendered moot by the horror of the Eclipse.
- In The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Sayuri's disappearance causes Hiroki and Takuya to drift apart. Reuniting to finish the Vielaciela for her sake brings them together again.
- This is discussed in Accel World. It's pointed out in Volume 20 that if Kuroyukihime lost all her points, thereby losing Brain Burst and all memory of the Accelerated World, Nega Nebulus, the Legion she founded and spent the last few months reuniting, would fall apart.
- In Kingdom Come, it was Superman's retirement (after the death of Lois Lane, and the public favoring the Anti-Hero Magog over him) that caused most other heroes to also retire. Similarly his return years later inspires them to come back.
- In the "Breakdowns" arc of Justice League International, it was the ultimately unsuccessful assassination attempt on Maxwell Lord, which nevertheless left him in a coma, that broke up the team. The apparentnote death of Captain Atom, the field commander of the JLE, probably didn't help either. An interesting case, because neither man was particularly beloved by the team, but they were the ones who could impose some discipline and organization on a gang of super-powered egomaniacs.
- In Astro City, it's briefly mentioned that the Crossbreed, the Biblical-themed superhero team from the "Confessions" story arc, broke up after their leader Noah passed away.
- 2017 Runaways treats Gert this way, with Chase claiming she was The Heart of the group and after she was killed the team started to crumble. In reality, the group held together for a quite long time after that event and it was a series of other events (often in completely different books) that broke the group, so he is clearly biased.
- Quite a few One Piece ones had the Straw Hats disbanding once their captain Luffy was gone.
- Also happens to a number of Sailor Moon fanfics that have Usagi gone or killed off.
- In Fallen King, Yugi kept his friends together. Tea points out at the end that if he were there, he wouldn't have let them split apart.
- In One Year, this is averted with the Investigation Team, which remains close after Yu returns home. It's played straight, though, with Yu's old group of friends, who drifted apart in the year that he was gone. Yu, who hadn't been much for making deep friendships before coming to Inaba, is surprised and somewhat upset to find out that he'd been the glue holding the group together, as he'd hoped that they would have been able to go on without him.
- In Herman Hesse's The Journey to the East, the tight-knit group H.H. is traveling with completely falls apart after their servant, Leo, disappears in Morbio Inferiore. H.H. later finds out that Leo was actually the League president all along, traveling with them in disguise. His disappearance was a Secret Test of Character which everyone in the group failed miserably.
- In Skippy Dies, Skippy's group of friends (Ruprecht, Geoff, Mario, Dennis) all stop hanging out with each other and find separate groups of friends after Skippy's titular deaths; turns out Skippy was what held them together all along.
- In Ward, which takes place two years after the finale of Worm, the Undersiders largely fragmented after the death of Grue and the disappearance of Skitter. There's at least four different groups that came from it that still keep in touch and coordinate occasionally, but they're not the tight-knit group they once were.
- Happens between the second and third seasons of Robin of Sherwood - the merry men disbanded after the death of the original Robin (Michael Praed) and it takes the coming of the new one (Jason Connery) to pull them back together.
- Discussed in the sixth-season premiere of Bones: After Brennan left on a field expedition to Indonesia at the end of the previous season, most of Jeffersonian Crime Lab broke up and drifted apart, while Cam was left overwhelmed by the workload.
Brennan: What happened? You're no longer in the Jeffersonian. All my interns are gone.
Cam: What happened is you put your own desires ahead of everything else and left.
Brennan: Are you angry with me?
Cam: Yes, I am angry, Dr. Brennan! We had a great thing going. You just... you let it fall apart.
- In the New Testament, after Jesus is arrested and crucified, his disciples are scattered across Jerusalem, not knowing what to do next. Peter even denies ever knowing him (three times). However, then Jesus comes back and rounds them all up again. After his ascension, they once again split up to carry out his will and convert other countries.
- In Panopticon Quest, Reina was popular and respected across the Order/Union and her death was the catalyst for many changes in the Technocracy, including the Electrodyne Engineers' disagreement turning into outright defection and the Invisible College's reformation as Control.
- In Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepard's sheer magnetism kept the very mixed Normandy crew together even after the Saren crisis. When s/he was killed, however, they fell apart... See Joker's quote on that above. Shepard's return eventually draws almost all of them back together, aside from those who have other obligations like Wrex reforming the Krogan or Liara being the Shadow Broker. The bulk of Shepard's crew and whichever squadmate you chose to save on Virmire however left on other Alliance business and invoke What the Hell, Hero? for Shepard working for Cerberus.
- This is lampshaded late in the game, when Miranda points out that Shepard must have a magnetic personality and gobs of charisma to get so many people not just working together, but working together well, despite their misgivings about each other. In short, Shepard's superpower is their ability to engender trust and rally people.
- Happens again in Mass Effect 3, albeit for different reasons. After the events of the Arrival, Shepard turned themselves and the Normandy over to the Alliance and spent the next six months under house-arrest on Earth awaiting trial for causing the destruction of the Bahak System (or ties with Cerberus if you didn't play The Arrival DLC). The survivors of the Suicide Mission have again been scattered across the galaxy, with only Garrus, the Virmire Survivor, Liara, and Tali able to rejoin your squad, while everyone else appears during side-quests or as playing important roles in the conflict at large.
- Dragon Age:
- This happens to the Warden's companions in Dragon Age: Origins if s/he dies in the Final Battle. Of course, they still leave even if s/he survives.
- In Dragon Age II, after the events at the Gallows, Hawke and their companions are forced to flee Kirkwall and go their separate ways, with the exception of Hawke's Love Interest who joins them on the run. By the time of Inquisition, Hawke is revealed to have also parted ways with their love interest in order to focus on their investigation of the false Calling without interfering with whatever personal business their lover had. However, Varric is still maintaining contact with all the old gang and if Hawke survives the Fade, they are reunited with their family (what's left of it)... at least until the next crisis.
- In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the main character will always survive, but the title organization faces considerable pressure to disband or downsize in the last story DLC. The Inquisitor can pick either option, but most companions will return to their own lives and affairs, albeit staying in contact.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, after the Player Character ventures alone into Unknown Space after the events of the game, the Ebon Hawk crew likewise falls apart, with only a few reappearing in the sequel.
- They didn't just fall apart; they were assigned to different tasks. Canderous was assigned to reform the Mandelorians, Carth is rebuilding the Republic military, and Bastila (and possibly the other Jedi) are rebuilding the shattered Jedi order in secret.
- In Persona 3: FES, the SEES members admit they've fallen apart, despite being dorm mates, after the events of the main campaign in which the main character died. This is partially due to the general grief of not really knowing why he died as from their perspective, he just suddenly fell into a coma before passing away. After they learn the truth, their fellowship seems to become stronger, as they all go on to work together on a team dedicated to stopping shadows wherever they appear, even though they each have their own lives otherwise.
- Subverted with Persona 4. The group of heroes all stay together in spite of the protagonist leaving the town for awhile at the end of the game. And when he returns in Arena, and in The Golden's epilogue they all fall in as if he'd never left.
- Both teams are contrasted with each other in Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, where the P3 cast has to deal with realizing how much closer the P4 cast is as a group than they are, suggesting the only reason most of these people are even in the same team is that their leader is the glue keeping them together.
- Also subverted in Persona 5. At the end of the game, Morgana disappears and the protagonist is forced to turn himself in to ensure that Shido, the head of the conspiracy the Phantom Thieves had been fighting, is convicted of his crimes. The Phantom Thieves waste little time before setting out to find the woman the protagonist had saved from Shido (resulting in him being unjustly accused of assault), even without their leader.
- This can happen in Football Manager and whilst it may seem like a weird example all the rules of this trope apply. If you resign or leave your club for whatever reason and you have built a good rapport with your staff then they may leave alongside you.
- In The Godfather 2 Michael Corleone discusses this, saying that Aldo Trapani was the only one holding the New York mob together. Sure enough, with his death, breakaway splinter groups have started to form.
- In Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri, Captain Garland was charismatic and magnetic enough to keep the incredibly diverse folk of the Unity together. When he dies before the game starts, all the factions fall apart.
- Several of the party members that the Nameless One can recruit in Planescape: Torment turn out to have accompanied at least one of his previous incarnations. Over the course of the game, they are drawn to him once again.
- In Marvel's Avengers, the death of Captain America during A-Day was a significant reason the remaining Avengers disbanded, as they had never established a clear chain of command beyond Cap being the team leader. After being apart for five years, it takes Kamala Khan discovering evidence that Cap's death wasn't just a tragic accident to bring them back together, and even then their reformed bond is fragile until they learn that Cap was actually just kept in stasis by their enemies.
- The title organisation from Overwatch had this happen hugely after Reinhardt Wilhelm was forced to retire. His influence both kept the individual members together and gave the organisation a moral compass; without him there to object, Blackwatch started doing questionable stuff that the public wasn't happy about when it came to light. Once Jack Morrison (the actual leader of Overwatch) and Gabriel Reyes (leader of Blackwatch) had their scrap and were both presumed dead, Overwatch was disbanded and without any real leader figure left, the team split up to go their own ways.
- The third expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic involves a time skip of five years, during which each crew of class story companions gradually splits up after their respective protagonist goes missing. A case of "we were their team" for companions from different storylines.
- This happens in Little Busters! during the Bad End of Sasami's route in the Updated Re-release. In it, she ends up being Ret-Gone from everyone's memories, with the exception of Riki. When Riki sees Sasami's Girl Posse, they consider quitting the softball club, which Sasami was the captain of. One reason they mention is that all the upperclassmen are really bad about bullying and hazing the younger students. Sasami mentions in her route that when she became captain, she reformed the club to make sure bullying and hazing weren't tolerated, having dealt with it herself as a freshman. With her gone, the club has gone back to how it used to be, and the trio that followed Sasami now have no one to help them deal with the hazing.
- In the Bad Future of the Teen Titans episode "How Long Is Forever", Starfire had disappeared, leading the team to break apart. While not the leader, she was the most good-natured and optimistic. The rest of the team are actually in disbelief that their friendships were so weak to allow that to happen, resolving to become closer as a result.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) has a Bad Future episode even bleaker than Titans. Without Donatello's "level head", the Turtles no longer work as a team and Shredder takes over the world.
- In the one episode of Justice League, when it seems that Superman has been killed, the League briefly considers disbandment. Subverted twice: in the original timeline, they recruit Aquaman and stick around (but don't last long before being wiped out); and when Vandal Savage fixes the timeline, and Superman returns to his time, the League proceeds like they did before.
- In Kim Possible, as more about Shego's heroic past in Team Go with her brothers is disclosed, it is revealed that she was basically the one who kept the team coordinated when they were all heroes; after Shego became a villain, her brothers couldn't operate as an actual team because their respective egos or impulsiveness got in the way.
- In The Legend of Korra, Korra was poisoned by Zaheer and needed to leave the team to recover. When it was clear Korra would be gone much longer than they expected, Team Avatar disbanded and all except for Bolin gave up their heroism and led regular lifestyles. By the time Korra returned, the team is back together for one last mission against Kuvira, and with more members that time around.
- In Spider-Man: The Animated Series, the Six Forgotten Heroes were implied to have been like this - after Captain America did a Heroic Sacrifice, they each went their separate ways, and most of them gave up superheroism eventually. Although the team is put back together by Spider-Man, not Captain America.
- Done in an... interesting way in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls. In the show proper, while it's implied that the rest of the Mane 6 knew each other prior to Twilight Sparkle's arrival, they didn't really get to know each other and become friends until Twilight pulled them all together. When Twilight enters the High School A.U. in Equestria Girls, she finds out that the human versions of the Mane 5 were friends until Alpha Bitch Sunset Shimmer manipulated them into breaking apart. Not two days after Twilight's arrival, the Humane 5 are once again friends.
- When the family head, usually the grandparents, die, very often the rest of the family will drift apart without the patriarch/matriarch keeping them together.
- Relatively common in martial arts schools when it comes time for the sensei/head instructor to pass on their title (especially if said instructor dies unexpectedly or is otherwise incapacitated without leaving instructions on who should take over). Students who disagree with the choice of successors, or who don't get along with them, will often leave or start their own group.