Like so many other aspects of the novel, the ending of The Color of Magic is a remix of the typical fantasy ending. It plays with those well-known beats but changes them just enough to come up with something different.
Think back on any fantasy novel you've read, or even a movie you've seen. After the adventure has ended and the evil is defeated, chances are the story ends in one of two ways:
- If the protagonist originally left his home to go a-questing, then he returns home to live out his days in peace and quiet. The Hobbit rocks this ending pretty well.
- On the other hand, if the protagonist wandered into his adventure, then he will return to his wandering ways, probably leaving his new comrades and potential love interest to watch him pass into the sunset, though they might tag along. Conan the Barbarian and its sequel, Conan the Destroyer, have this ending down pat.
But while these endings are superficially different, they actually harbor the same spirit—in both cases, the world returns to normal. If the hero left home, he returns home. If the hero has no home, he continues to wander. The world has gone full circle and returned things to the way they were before the evil overlord began mucking it up. Despite all its imaginative bells and whistles, fantasy stories tend to be pretty conservative in this way.
Discworld toys with this type of ending by having its cake and eating it, too. The novel ends with Rincewind floating through space. He takes in the Great A'Tuin, the Disc moon, the stars, and the deep blackness of space, and the novel ends with these lines:
The whole of Creation was waiting for Rincewind to drop in.
He did so.
There didn't seem to be any alternative. (4.18.46-48)
This ending is hardly a return to the normal. Rincewind has never been off the Discworld, never seen the whole of Creation. The brief glimpse of it he spied off the Rimfall at Tethis's place was enough to terrify him, if you'll recall (4.5.53). Yet this also is a return to normality because Rincewind continues to follow Twoflower on his crazy adventures, even when they take him beyond the Discworld itself.
The same can be said for the character of Rincewind. On the one hand, Rincewind's character has changed, grown from when we first meet him. When Rincewind stands up to Scrofula-pretending-to be-Death, he finds that "for the first time in his life he wasn't frightened," though he doesn't expect his life to be "lasting long" (4.18.19). He's experienced some progress, then.
On the other hand, though, he's still being dragged around by the struggle between Fate and the Lady as evident by that last line: "There didn't seem to be any alternative." He may have gained a bit of bravery, but he'd still rather not need to have it in the first place.
So Discworld's ending, much like the novel leading up to it, presents us with a normal fantasy ending that is, at the same time, decidedly not normal.