Navarro-Valls said then that the pontiff "continues his slow and progressive convalescence" and was spending "many hours each day" in a chair while carrying on his work and meeting with Vatican officials.
The next day, however, he took a turn for the worse, according to a new bulletin. It said the pope was suffering from a high fever, septic shock and heart failure after developing a urinary tract infection. Officials reported the pontiff was responding well to antibiotics but remained very sick. In a subsequent bulletin, the Vatican acknowledged that he had received Holy Viaticum, a special Holy Communion provided to Catholics as they near death.
The final drama took place in the pope's apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square, where the pontiff insisted on remaining rather than returning to the hospital.
In "Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II," George Weigel describes the apartment as plain and practical, in marked contrast to the splendor of the Apostolic Palace with its Raphael frescoes, rich tapestries and marble. The pope's bedroom was a large but unadorned space divided by an old-fashioned folding partition. On one side was a small desk; the other side contained a full-sized bed with a simple white bedspread, several free-standing closets and a large table where the pope liked to display books of photography.
Things moved rapidly toward the end. The Vatican's first bulletin Friday at 6:30 a.m. characterized his condition as "very serious" and said the pope was receiving unspecified "therapeutic measures and cardio-respiratory assistance," but it also reported that John Paul had participated in morning Mass.
Navarro-Valls briefed journalists again at noon, saying the pope's blood pressure was unstable but that he remained conscious. Navarro-Valls himself began to weep and cut short the session after describing the pontiff as "lucid, fully aware and, I must say, very serene."
Serenity was the theme the Vatican was emphasizing near the end. Vincenzo Paglia, the bishop of Terni, said that when he spoke with Dziwisz, the pope's personal secretary, Dziwisz stressed that the pontiff "was extremely serene. Between the two of them, there was a sense of total respect and enormous fidelity. Stanislaw had a serene but sad voice on the phone."
The Vatican also depicted John Paul as still engaged in church business. On Friday afternoon, a statement said the pope had formally accepted the resignations of six bishops, appointed 17 new bishops and archbishops and named two new Vatican ambassadors.
A bulletin at 6:30 Friday evening painted a dire picture: a gradual worsening of arterial hypotension, shallow breathing and cardiocirculatory and renal insufficiency. "The biological parameters are notably compromised," it read.
The next morning at 11:30, the pope's condition was reported unchanged but "very serious." As of dawn, "the start of a compromised state of consciousness was observed."
By then the death watch had begun in earnest. Friends and colleagues came to the bedside to pay their last respects. According to the account in La Repubblica, Dziwisz caressed John Paul's hand from time to time, while the attending nuns stood by his bedside and murmured the rosary through tears. The newspaper said the pope was unable to recognize many of those who came to say goodbye.
When a pope dies there is a series of traditions by which his retinue is said to confirm the death. The traditional method was to tap the forehead three times with a small silver hammer, call out his baptismal name three times and place a cloth over his face to see if he was breathing. Many experts believe the hammer is apocryphal, but the report in La Repubblica claimed a delicate veil of linen was draped over the pontiff's face. Then, it said, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo lifted the cloth and softly pronounced the pontiff's Polish first name twice: "Karol" and then "Carolus."
There was no response.
The world got its first word of the death through e-mails sent to news organizations by Navarro-Valls's Vatican press office.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the pontiff's secretary of state, left the pope's room and headed for the prayer service taking place in St. Peter's Square below. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri told the crowd the pope had died a peaceful death.
"I think the pope's heart must have stopped beating out of exhaustion," said Manni, the former Vatican physician. "He had an extremely strong heart -- I am convinced that is the only way he managed to endure all that he did over the years, from his assassination [attempt] to the tracheotomy, and live until he was 84 with Parkinson's. But his heart must have given up yesterday after trying to fight everything."
Special correspondent Sheila Pierce contributed to this article.