The planet Mars has grown uninhabitable for the Martians to live there. They are forced to find a way to Earth and start the attempt to wipe out the human race.
When the Martians shot themselves off their planet in cylinders towards earth, landing near a town in England, an astronomer saw the strange shooting light in the sky and went in the one direction of which the cylinder seemed to have landed, hoping to find it. When he found the crash site, the news soon spread. A crowd started to gather around the crater the cylinder had made, expecting to see men much like themselves crawl out of the opening that was slowly unscrewing itself. The Martians emerged and their appearance was like anything but men, with their head-like bodies and many tentacles. They had a weapon that shot heat-rays, setting aflame anything in its path. Many people were shot by it, while the others fled for their life.
The narrator ran back hoext day they packed up and headed to Leatherhead where his wife's cousins were. Shortly after they arrived the narrator had to go back to return a cart that he had borrowed from an innkeeper and had promised to return. In the town he found dead bodies along the streets including the innkeepers. He encountered a big metal machine on a tall tripod with a Martian inside controlling it.
Back at his house, he met an artilleryman and the next day they traveled on together. After many hours walking down the road they came to a town. As they were walking through the Martians made an attack. The narrator jumped into the river out of sight of the martians and out of reach of the Heat-Ray. Military guns shot at a Martian, destroying it. It fell into the river, causing the water to boil, and burning the narrator. He was able to escape to a boat and down the river. Further down he landed exhausted on shore. After resting he found a curate from the church of the nearby town who was confused by all the destruction and started to follow the narrator around.
By that time the Martians had started to destroy London where the narrator's brother lived. That was when the Martians had changed their weapon from the Heat-Ray to the Black Smoke that they spread across the land. Luckily the narrator's brother had escaped in time before they spread it through the streets of London.
The narrator and the curate had broken into an abandoned house to get food when the fifth cylinder landed right next to them, destroying part of the house and trapping them inside. For many weeks they stayed in the house during which the curate's death was caused by his loud talking that attracted the attention of a Martian. Eventually the narrator realized that no more Martians were in sight. It was finally safe to come out. He walked on down the road towards Leatherhead hoping his wife was still alive.
Everywhere, the trees, the ground, were covered in a red weed from Mars. He felt like he was walking through a different world. Further down the road he met the artillery man again. They stayed together for a few days but the narrator wanted to see London so he left the artillery man and went alone.
In London he wandered the destroyed and deserted streets. There he found a pit the Martians had created, where the Martians were all lying dead. They had died from the bacteria on the earth that humans had become immune to.
When the narrator returned to his home, believing his wife to be among the dead, he found her there and the two were reunited. Miraculously, the war was over and soon England was returned back to normal. Now and then the narrator was still haunted by the past and knew that the world should be prepared for the possibility of the Martians' return.
- In the novel, the narrator claims he hears guns going off. In the end, the book never said what the purpose of the gunfire was for, or what role it played.
- The book gives no description of the aftermath after the end of the Southend battle.
- After the HMS Thunder Child incident, the book never says what happens to the narrator's brother.
- The book never gives the names of the narrator, or his brother.