Little attention has been accorded to the terminal course and end-of-life care of patients after dialysis discontinuation. This prospective cohort observational study involves six dialysis clinics in the United States and two clinics in Canada. Data were collected on 131 patients who were undergoing maintenance dialysis and died after treatment discontinuation. Seventy-nine of the patients (60%) were prospectively studied until their deaths. Caregivers and families provided information about the symptoms and treatment provided in the final 24 hours of life, and structured interviews were conducted at the time of stopping dialysis with patients and families. The patient population was primarily white (73%), elderly (70 +/- 1.2 years), and diabetic (46%). Three quarters of the subjects had between three and seven comorbid conditions. Pain and agitation were the most common symptoms during the last day of life. Terminal treatment was generally considered to be satisfactory, and most people had good deaths. Although dialysis prolongs life, the integration of palliative medicine into dialysis programs offers opportunities to improve the quality of end-of-life care, especially for those patients who elect to stop treatment. Recommendations include making advance care planning an expectation at all clinics and using quality-of-dying measures to establish benchmarks for the provision of terminal care.