In 1862, Fenton abandoned photography, most likely for both personal and professional reasons. His only son had died in April 1860, and the family mill that had helped to support his comfortable lifestyle closed later that year. In addition, photography itself had changed markedly in the late 1850s and early 1860s. As hundreds of thousands of small, cheap photographs flooded the market, prices for all photographs plummeted, and Fenton, like many others, could not compete. As a result of this market change, respect for the profession, which Fenton had tried so hard to elevate, also diminished considerably.
In October 1862, Fenton announced his retirement from photography. The following month, he sold all of his equipment and negatives at an auction to remove "all that might be a temptation to revert to past occupations." Fenton returned to the practice of law and died in 1869 at the age of fifty.