Think about any of the romantic comedies you've ever watched. From When Harry Met Sally to Say Anything to Love Actually, what's the Golden Rule that unites them all? The lovers get together at the end, and everyone's pretty happy about it. Hooray, time for a wedding!
So, when this romance winds up with the lovers getting together, why do we feel so creeped out? Well, consider the fact that in your typical romantic comedy, people don't die. That's a plot point that's usually reserved for tragedies. Yet here, the specter of death is everywhere. Did you notice that the lovers' voyage is taken on a boat that sails down a river of floating corpses? How about that, the entire time, Fermina is freaked out by the story she heard about an elderly couple of secret lovers (just like them!) who was murdered on vacation by their boatman? It kind of adds an element of suspense when, at the very end, Fermina shudders and thinks to herself that the Captain is their "destiny" (6.233).
Remember, this couple is old. When Florentino kisses Fermina for the first time, he's disgusted by the smell of her old, decaying flesh. At the novel's close, we are reminded how close these lovers are to death by the "wintry frost" on Fermina's eyelashes (6.236).
Furthermore, the love between Florentino and Fermina is made tragic because it came at the cost of América Vicuña's suicide. Though Florentino attempts to disavow any responsibility for the young girl's death and to continue with his love affair as though nothing had happened, we're disturbed by the knowledge that it was his intervention in América's life that led to her suicide. We mean, come on! He carries on a sexual relationship with his fourteen-year-old relative and then dumps her for another woman. He was her guardian, for Pete's sake! It's hard to feel warmly towards our hero at this point.
At the novel's close, we're left with a bunch of questions. Are the lovers completely delusional? Are they foolish for ignoring death's approach and the tragedy and violence that surrounds them? Are they selfish for ignoring their responsibilities to others? Or is love greater and nobler when it endures in calamity, as Florentino tells his beloved? Are the lovers to be admired for shaking off society's shackles and stubbornly persisting in the face of so many hardships? Could the answer to all of these questions be "yes"?