Dexter (Joseph Mazzello) dies of AIDS-related complications. Erik (Brad Renfro) and Dexter's mom, Linda (Annabella Sciorra), reassure their bond over his death due to how good of a friend Erik was to Dexter. Linda forces Erik's mom, Gail (Diana Scarwid), to treat her own son better and let him go to Dexter's funeral, which he gets to do.
Dexter and Erik's odyssey in search of a cure for Erik's AIDS comes to an end when Dexter becomes ill after fending off the two boatmen whom they stole money from by cutting his hand and threatening them to infect them with his blood. Erik decides to call Dexter's mom, Linda, to tell her they will be taking a bus back to Stillwater. Dexter and Linda have a tearful reunion and Dexter is taken to the hospital.
Erik decides to stay with them the whole time so he can comfort his friend and to avoid his neglectful, bigoted mother Gail, who would most likely prevent him from being near Dexter. The two boys decide to prank doctors into making them think that Dexter's dead; they do this three times. However, upon the third time, when a doctor comes checking, Dexter doesn't wake up, because he has actually passed away from his disease's complications. Distraught over the death of her only son, Linda drives Erik home and breaks down when she notices a woman with her young child crossing the street. The two share an embrace when he apologizes for "not trying harder to find a cure" and Linda answers that he was the best thing that ever happened to Dexter.
When they get to Erik's place, Gail angrily attacks him. Linda stops her and asks her to come inside to talk. Once there, she pins Gail against the wall and, in tears, sternly warns her not to ever touch the boy again or else, and that he *would* be going to his deceased best friend's funeral. Gail complies and she and Erik drive off, after Linda reassures him.
In the end, at the funeral, Erik decides to put one of his own shoes in Dexter's coffin and take one of Dexter's shoes (which Linda notices and smiles), and then send Dexter's shoe sailing down the river. This symbolized their enduring, unbreakable friendship.
Thanks Julio M!