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The ending of The Girl on the Train explained

In the wake of thrillers like Gone Girl, both the film and literary worlds tried to find the next hit thriller full of twists and turns that would hook audiences right from the beginning, and author Paula Hawkins struck gold in 2015 with her debut novel, The Girl on the Train. The story is told from the perspective of three women — an alcoholic, a young mother, and a troubled wife — whose lives are interconnected thanks to dangerous men, romantic entanglements, and a train line that runs through a sleepy suburb.

The film, directed by The Help's Tate Taylor, moves the setting from London to New York and stars Emily Blunt as Rachel Watson, Rebecca Ferguson as Anna Watson, and Haley Bennett as Megan Hipwell, the three women at the center of the story. Though this thriller received middling reviews from critics, it performed well at the box office, continuing the streak of female-centric crime thrillers dominating movie theaters across the world. However, if you're still trying to get to the bottom of this twisting narrative and its intense final moments, here's the entire ending of The Girl on the Train explained. This should go without saying, but spoilers for the entirety of The Girl on the Train to follow!

The Girl on the Train starts with a woman's daily and dangerous routine

The film opens from the perspective of Rachel, a broken down woman with a serious drinking problem who takes the same train every single day and watches the houses she passes, as well as their inhabitants. Drinking from a water bottle filled with straight vodka, Rachel develops a weird obsession with Megan Hipwell, a young, beautiful woman, and her handsome husband, Scott (Luke Evans), who live in a house she passes daily. Though she doesn't know their names or anything about them, she fixates on their marriage, which she regards as perfect, and she wonders about their lives.

Ultimately, Rachel, who spends her days riding the train to hide a secret from her roommate — specifically, that she no longer has a job — seems harmless enough, but as it turns out, her past is what drove her into the bottle, and she has just as many secrets to hide as anybody else.

Tom, Anna, and Rachel's dark past

Eventually, it's revealed that one of the houses Rachel passes each day has two inhabitants she knows quite well. Just two houses away from the Hipwells, along the same train line, Tom (Justin Theroux), Rachel's ex-husband, lives with his new wife, Anna. After Tom cheated on Rachel and left her for Anna, the new couple started a family together, leaving Rachel bereft and hopeless.

Despite many happy years together, Rachel and Tom's marriage crumbled when they couldn't have a child due to fertility issues. After that, Rachel's heavy drinking ultimately tore them apart, especially after a party at the home of Tom's boss, where Rachel caused an enormous scene. Finally, when Rachel discovered that Tom was having an affair with Anna, their real estate agent, their marriage abruptly ended. 

Now, Rachel watches from afar as Tom gets everything he wants — a beautiful new wife, an adorable child, and domestic bliss — while Rachel is alone, still nursing a debilitating drinking problem. However, to make matters worse, Rachel frequently makes drunken calls to Tom, and she once even entered the Watsons' house and walked away with their daughter, Evie, frightening Anna and creating a narrative that Rachel is dangerous and unstable.

A disappearance shocks the neighborhood

One day, from the train, Rachel spots something amiss at the Hipwell house. Because she's watched Scott and Megan's intimacy from afar many times, she immediately notices when she sees Megan kissing a man on her balcony ... a man who isn't Scott. After her husband left her for another woman, infidelity is an obvious sore spot for Rachel, and she leaves the train, determined to confront Megan and stop her from ruining her marriage before it's too late.

However, Rachel's mission goes wrong, and she doesn't entirely know why. The next morning, she wakes up covered in blood with no memory of speaking to Megan at all, and worse still, it turns out that Megan has gone missing. The police, including Detective Riley (Allison Janney), question Rachel about her whereabouts later that night, as they've begun an investigation into Megan's sudden disappearance. Though her roommate and college friend, Cathy (Laura Prepon), backs Rachel up and says she arrived home the night before, Riley is suspicious, especially when Rachel tells the detective that she saw Megan with a stranger the day of her disappearance.

Rachel infiltrates the Hipwell household

In the aftermath of Megan's disappearance, Rachel stops drinking and decides to do some investigative work of her own. During her daily train trip, she heads to the Hipwell house to introduce herself to Scott, pretending to be a friend and close confidante of Megan's to gain information about the missing woman. When she tells Scott that she saw Megan with another man, he shows her a photo of Megan's therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic (Édgar Ramirez), and Rachel immediately confirms that Dr. Abdic is the man in question.

Dr. Abdic is detained by the police and questioned as a result, but the police are ultimately distracted by his claims that Megan told him Scott was an emotionally abusive husband and that their marriage was incredibly unstable. Rachel, still trying to solve the mystery herself, goes to see Dr. Abdic on her own, but instead of getting information about Megan, she tells Dr. Abdic about her own struggles. However, she has no idea that Megan has a seriously dark past as well.

Megan's true tragedy

Rachel may think that Megan's life is idyllic and perfect, but as it turns out, that couldn't be further from the truth. Unhappy in the isolated suburbs, Megan, who used to work at art galleries in Manhattan, now works as a nanny for Tom and Anna's daughter, Evie, but she's bored and alone in her home with Scott, growing tired of her marriage. However, she eventually tells Dr. Abdic that her problems run even deeper than simple dissatisfaction.

The two begin a romantic relationship, and Megan confesses that when she was much younger, she had a baby girl. Living alone with her daughter and her lover in a remote cabin, Megan fell asleep one night with her daughter in the bath. When she woke up, her daughter had drowned, traumatizing her. To others, especially Rachel, Megan looks like the ideal woman, but with such a tragic event behind her, her everyday life is troubled and fraught, making her disappearance even more complicated.

A body is found

Ultimately, Megan's already tragic life ends in utter devastation. After a few days, Megan's beaten body is found in the woods not far from the Hipwell's home, and tests performed after her death show that she was newly pregnant when she was killed. However, there's a bigger complication. Neither Scott nor Dr. Abdic is the father, meaning that Megan was with another man before she died.

Upon hearing this crushing news, Scott breaks into Rachel's home, offering her a drink — which she declines — and threatening her, now that he knows she lied to him about her fabricated friendship with Megan. After the assault, Rachel reports Scott to the police, saying that his violent demeanor makes her think he killed Megan after all. However, as it turns out, Scott has an air-tight alibi, as the cops have security camera footage of him at a sports bar the night Megan disappeared. Suddenly, Rachel is back to square one, but in the meantime, she solves a different mystery.

Rachel's shocking realization

On the train yet again, Rachel is still determined to solve Megan's murder, but along the way, she meets someone from her past. During her daily ride, she sees the wife of Tom's boss, Martha (Lisa Kudrow), and approaches her, determined to apologize. According to Tom, Rachel caused a scene at Martha's home, hurling a plate of deviled eggs at a wall and yelling at Martha, which got Tom in trouble at work.

However, Martha reveals to Rachel that Tom's version of the story is a total lie, and that all Rachel did was lie down and take a nap when she wasn't feeling well. To make matters worse, Tom wasn't fired from his job over Rachel's behavior. Instead, he was fired because he was sleeping with several other employees and creating an unsafe environment in the workplace. It's only then that Rachel realizes the truth. Throughout their marriage, Tom abused and gaslit Rachel, beating her when she was passed out and making up stories about her bad behavior to gain the upper hand. By planting these memories in her head, Tom convinced Rachel that she was the problem, but now that Rachel is sober, she understands that Tom was the problem all along.

The truth about Tom

As if it's not bad enough that Tom brutally abused and beat Rachel for most of their relationship, he has even more to hide, including secrets he's keeping from his new wife, Anna. After leaving Rachel for Anna, it seems that Tom has everything he could want ... but even that isn't enough.

Anna, suspicious of her husband's odd behavior, ultimately discovers one of Tom's secrets — he's been having an affair with Megan, going so far as to meet up with her in their own home while Megan was taking care of their daughter. However, that's not all there is to the story.

As the film flashes back to the moment that Rachel tries to drunkenly confront Megan, the entire story emerges. After beating Rachel and leaving her in a tunnel, Tom brings Megan to an isolated spot in the woods, only for Megan to tell him that she's pregnant. Though he tells her to terminate the pregnancy, she refuses, and he shoves her in retaliation. When she hits her head on a rock and starts to bleed, Tom doubles down, beating her to death and leaving her body behind.

The final showdown in The Girl on the Train

By this point, Rachel has pretty much figured out that Tom is responsible for Megan's disappearance and death, and she goes to his house to warn Anna in an attempt to help. Anna, however, wants nothing to do with Rachel. But though she tells Rachel she knows about Tom's affair with Megan and doesn't care, Rachel insists that Anna and Evie should get away from him as quickly as possible.

Tom arrives home and is confronted by both women, and he snaps immediately, beating Rachel and throwing alcohol in her face to force her to drink. Eventually, he hits Rachel until she passes out, and when she regains consciousness, Tom tries to strangle his ex-wife, but she escapes, running out into the backyard towards the train tracks. When Tom catches up with Rachel, she has a trick up her sleeve — on her way out of the house, she grabbed a corkscrew, which she plunges into his neck. Anna emerges from the house and sees what Rachel has done, but her only response is to join Rachel next to Tom's body and twist the corkscrew in even further, sealing Tom's fate.

At the end of The Girl on the Train, these three women are tied forever

Rachel and Anna are taken to the police station — as Scott Hipwell watches them leave their home — and tell the police the same story, which is that they attacked Tom together in self-defense after he confessed to Megan's murder. Anna even goes so far as to tell the police that she was wrong all along and Rachel was right, clearing Rachel's name and making it clear that she isn't dangerous or delusional but the victim of abuse.

The final shots of the film offer complete redemption for Rachel, who's able to reclaim her life in the wake of Tom's abuse. After visiting Megan's grave with flowers, thinking to herself that the three women are "tied forever now" because of the stories and horrors they've shared together, Rachel gets back on the train. However, this time, she sits in a different car and faces a different way, signifying that she can begin to heal now and resume her life as a new, changed woman with the worst moments of her life behind her.