One day, as Siddhartha was touring a park area of the kingdom, he saw four things that changed his life. First, he saw a sick person. He had never seen a sick person before and was shocked at the sight. Next, he saw an old person, someone stooped over and suffering the effects of old age. Again, he was shocked for he'd never seen this suffering before. Then, he saw a corpse! He'd certainly never seen a dead person before, nor did he even really understand the reality of death. His father had kept him sheltered from all these things, particularly death.
The novel ends with Govinda returning to the river to seek enlightenment by meeting with a wise man who lives there. When Govinda arrives, he does not recognize that the wise man is Siddhartha himself. Govinda is still a follower of Gotama but has yet to attain the kind of enlightenment that Siddhartha now radiates, and he asks Siddhartha to teach him what he knows. Siddhartha explains that neither he nor anyone can teach the wisdom to Govinda, because verbal explanations are limited and can never communicate the entirety of enlightenment. Instead, he asks Govinda to kiss him on the forehead, and when Govinda does, the vision of unity that Siddhartha has experienced is communicated instantly to Govinda. Govinda and Siddhartha have both finally achieved the enlightenment they set out to find in the days of their youth.