Was Gimli the last of his race?
In the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, dwarves play a fairly central role: They drive the entire plot of The Hobbit, and much of Fellowship is centered upon Moria, the dwarven stronghold.
We see scattered references to dwarven kingdoms still existing, yet nowhere in the trilogy does anyone consider calling upon the dwarves for aid.
In the movie, Gimli is seen first with 2-3 other dwarves at the council of Elrond, who are not referenced again (at least in the movies).
He fully expects to find his cousin and other kin alive and well at Moria, even though they've been dead for quite some time (it takes a LONG time to decompose to purely skeletal remains, especially when you're locked away in a mine with a constant temperature and no elements to contend with). This indicates that communication between dwarven kingdoms is infrequent, months or perhaps years without news is not unexpected.
Gathering this all together, then:
- Lots of dwarves die in the trilogy and the prequel.
- No one even discusses calling upon the dwarves for aid against Sauron.
- The dwarves don't communicate with each other frequently.
- Gimli is seen to NOT return to his people after the trilogy.
This indicates to me that Gimli is, if not the last, one of a very small number of remaining dwarves.
Did Tolkien ever discuss this?
just an aside, but when Frodo escapes from Boromir, climbs to higher elevation, and then sits upon the ancient Seat of Seeing or whatever, he looks in every direction and sees that the entire realm is at war. He even looks northward and sees that the Beornings (bear folk), the men of Dale, and everyone is else is at war up there. I think that explains why we don't see men of Dale, northern dwarves, beornings, etc. involved in the wars at Gondor and at the Black Gate---they're involved in a completely different front.
@KorvinStarmast - Please remember that the books are extremely dense and full of a LOT of miscellaneous information that isn't relevant to the plot (and thus is easily forgotten a few years after reading). Plus, this site is not just designed for purists who have read every bit of the source material for their fandoms. Also, there's a fair number of people who have only seen the movies, not read the books.
No, very definitely not.
There are tons of dwarves, all over the place. Gimli's own people [*] mainly lived around Erebor, where they moved to after the events of The Hobbit - Balin's expedition to Moria involved just a tiny group of those, not the whole population. As to why they weren't asked for help during LoTR, Gandalf refers (in Appendix A, section III) to the battles that they fought - against separate armies out of Mordor - while the main action was going on:
Even as Gandalf said afterwards to Frodo and Gimli, when they dwelt together for a time in Minas Tirith. Not long before news had come to Gondor of events far away.
'I grieved at the fall of Thorin,' said Gandalf; 'and now we hear that Dáin has fallen, fighting in Dale again, even while we fought here. I should call that a heavy loss, if it was not a wonder rather that in his great age he could still wield his axe as mightily as they say that he did, standing over the body of King Brand before the Gate of Erebor until the darkness fell.'
But there's nothing in that passage to indicate that the dwarves were wiped out by that battle - and, indeed, the chart on the next page showing the line of the kings of Durin's Folk continues well into the Fourth Age.
Finally, the same section also talks about how Gimli later brought some fellow dwarves to live in the Glittering Caves of Aglarond, the caverns guarded by the Hornburg in Rohan.
[*] who are those descended from Durin, just one of the seven Fathers of the Dwarves.
Further reading on Glittering Caves and Gimli: http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Glittering_Caves#War_of_the_Ring_and_afterwards
No, Gimli was not the last of his kind: the Dwarves of Erebor (the kingdom refounded after the events of The Hobbit) still existed, and Gimli does return to his people after the War of the Ring.
In Appendix A of the Lord of the Rings under section III, Durin's Folk:
After the fall of Sauron, Gimli brought south a part of the Dwarf-folk of Erebor, and he became Lord of the Glittering Caves. He and his people did great works in Gondor and Rohan. For Minas Tirith they forged gates of mithril and steel to replace those broken by the Witch-king.
The eventual fate of the Dwarves is left as an exercise for the reader, but the same section in the appendix provides some speculation.
That question actually inspired mine, honestly - I saw lots about the Hobbits, but none about the dwarves.
As far as the Movies are concerned they do mention the Dwarves
This evil cannot be concealed by the power of the Elves. We do not have the strength to withstand both Mordor and Isengard. Gandalf, the Ring cannot stay here. This evil belongs to all of Middle-Earth. They must decide now how to end it. The time of the Elves is over, my people are leaving these shores. Who will you look to when we've gone? The Dwarves? They toil away in caverns, seeking riches. They care nothing for the troubles of others
So the impression from the movies (which sounds unfair considering the quotes in the other answers) is that the Dwarves are too busy with minecraft to worry about the war of the ring.
Gimli's relatives in Moria might not have been there all that long. Hungry goblins might have reduced the dwarves to skeletons soon after their deaths. In any case, they could not have been there super-long. They came from Erebor, after that kingdom was again flourishing. Erebor was founded when Bilbo was 33. So, let's say, they arrived at Moria 50 years later (dwarves reproduce slowly), when Bilbo was 83. At the famous birthday party, Bilbo was 111. So, using movie chronology, about 28 years passed from arrival at Moria to FotR. And they were successful for a while, remember? Using the book's chronology rather than the movie's, you have to add another 10 years until FotR events. (You can look up exact dates in the appendices to RotK, which I don't have access to right now.) Getting back to your main question, the dwarves tried to re-establish Moria partly because the younger dwarves wanted some more lebensraum, indicating that both Erebor and the Iron Hills were certainly far from deserted. (And we know that Erebor was large.)
According to the Tale of Years, the colony was founded in 2989 and destroyed in 2994, so it lasted a mere 5 years. The main events of FotR (excluding the Party) begin in 3018, with Gandalf's fall on January 15th 3019, so the Fellowship entered Moria ~25 years after the colony was destroyed. (For ref, the Hobbit takes place in 2941/2942.)
Had goblins devoured the bodies, they would not have been resting as we saw them - fully clad, in poses recognizable as having been taken shortly before death. Hell, some were even clutching the arrows that killed them. Why would goblins so carefully reconstruct their victim's bones? Hell, why wouldn't goblins crack the bones for the delicious, delicious marrow within?
You are probably right, but goblins have a sick sense of humor, and a keen sense of the morbid. Even in (real) human history, it is not unheard-of to hang enemies from the gate in their armor. In any case, you are quibbling over a minor point (one sentence) in my reply. My main point was that Erebor had lost touch with Moria fairly recently, as dwarves judge time. When you said in your question "a LONG time" (your emphasis), I took that as meaning "centuries" (especially since you implied that Moria was like a flesh-preserving burial crypt). I just wanted to shed some light on that point.
Gimli's conversations in LoTR (books) imply Erebor was worried (though not hand-wringing) about no word from Moria for 25 years. From Erebor's POV: if the expedition had discovered mithril, they'd be unlikely to find anyone willing to leave off mining it in order to be a messenger, not to mention that they might want to keep all the mithril to themselves. And remember that Moria was a fortress, and that dwarves are great warriors and hard to kill. So, on the whole, Gimli felt 25 years was a bit long for no news, but he was still optimistic. No one had included the balrog in their reckoning.