See Middle-earth canon for a discussion. This subject's portrayal in earlier or alternative versions is discussed in the earlier versions of the legendarium section. In the final battle, Isildur managed to cut off the One Ring from Sauron's finger, dismantling Sauron's corporeal form and power.
After lying dormant and regaining strength for centuries, Sauron returned to power late in the Third Age , and would be permanently defeated in the War of the Ring by the destruction of the One Ring by Frodo Baggins. During this time, Mairon was as Eru had created him: good and incorrupt.
His greatest virtue was his love of order and perfection - dislike of anything wasteful. However, this would also prove to be the cause of his downfall, for in the Dark Lord Morgoth , Mairon saw the will and power that would help him achieve his own goals and desires faster than if he pursued them alone. However, while Morgoth wanted to either control or destroy Arda itself, Mairon's desire was to dominate the minds and wills of its creatures.
After allying himself with Morgoth, Mairon maintained his appearance of being faithful to the Valar, but secretly fed Morgoth information about their dealings. It was only when Morgoth established his strongholds in Middle-earth that Sauron left Valinor and openly declared his allegiance, thence remaining a recognized foe of the Valar and the Free Peoples of Middle-earth. The Sindar Elves in Beleriand called him Gorthaur , meaning "dread abomination"  , and by others of the Eldar he was named Sauron , meaning "the abhorred" or "the abominable" a mockery of his original name.
In that war, Sauron was counted as the "greatest of [Morgoth's] servants that have names". His only equal in rank was Gothmog, the High Captain of Angband. He was soon feared as a lord of terrible phantoms and dreadful beasts--a shape-shifter, sorcerer, and cunning servant of his master. Before Melkor's captivity, Sauron commanded the fortress of Angband and served as Melkor's lieutenant. At the beginning of the War of Powers, the Valar forces leveled Angband with little difficulty, though it is not know for certain if Sauron was present when the fortress was attacked.
When Utumno was sacked and Melkor captured, Sauron was nowhere to be found. However, in their haste to both capture Melkor and remove him from Middle-earth, the Valar paid little heed to Melkor's most terrible servants. One of them was Draugluin, but he fled and told his master that Huan was there. Huan sprang and subdued Sauron. Huan subdues Sauron by Ted Nasmith. Despite this, Sauron was unwilling to return to the Utter West for judgment, and so he fled and hid somewhere in Middle-earth.
This is the Master-ring, the One Ring to rule them all. This is the One Ring that he lost many ages ago, to the great weakening of his power.
He greatly desires it — but he must not get it. Sauron, like Morgoth, soon began raising massive armies of Orcs , Trolls , and possibly other creatures, as well as corrupting the hearts of Men with delusions of power and wealth, chiefly Easterlings and Southrons the Haradrim.
Although Sauron knew that men were easier to sway, he sought to bring the Elves into his service, as they were far more powerful. To the Elves who listened, Sauron gave knowledge and encouragement in forging the Rings of Power , though in secret Sauron forged his own, the One Ring , to rule the Elvish rings.
He was very powerful even without control of the Elves, and he conquered nearly all of Middle-earth during the War of the Elves and Sauron. Defeated but not vanquished, Sauron retreated back to Mordor and began recouping his strength over the many centuries. Towards the end of the Second Age, Sauron was once again powerful enough to raise again large armies to attempt to rule Middle-earth. By this time, he assumed the titles of " Lord of the Earth " and " King of Men ".
As his power and influence reached its peak, he raised a great Temple in which he performed human sacrifices to Morgoth. The world was bent , so that thereafter, only Elven-Ships could sail into the Utter West. Sauron's body was destroyed, but his spirit was not diminished, and he fled back to Mordor bearing the Ring, where he slowly rebuilt a new body and his strength during the time known as the Dark Years. From this point on, he lost the ability to assume a fair shape, and ruled now through terror and force.
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After learning that Elendil , whom he had most hated, had survived and was ordering a realm on his borders, Sauron, after a while, made war with them. He struck too soon, however, and had not restored most of his strength, whereas the Elven-king, Gil-galad had increased his power on Middle-earth in his absence. Finally, Sauron himself came forth and dueled both Elendil and Gil-galad, slaying them both single-handedly. Sauron's physical body was destroyed. With nearly all of his power stored in the ring, he was vanquished when it was cut from his finger.
Return of the Nine Series
Without their leader's dark will driving them on, Sauron's armies were routed and fled, and thus, his campaign to defeat the free peoples was seemingly ended, and his greatest weapon taken from him. But while Isildur had taken the ring, he could not bring himself to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom where it was forged, instead he became corrupted by the One Ring and kept it for himself. He was eventually betrayed by it a few years later, and slain by Orcs at Gladden Fields. Despite his defeat, Sauron was not vanquished permanently. Though greatly weakened, and in non-corporeal form, he still existed, due to pouring most of his native power, strength, and will into the One Ring.
Witch-king of Angmar
Thus, as long as it existed, he could never be truly defeated, and during the first thousand years of the Third Age, he lay in hiding, slowly recovering his strength until he was once again able to create a body for himself. There, he was disguised as a dark sorcerer known as " the Necromancer ", and the Elves did not realize at first that he was actually Sauron returned. While Sauron continued to gather his strength, the Ringwraiths reappeared in the year TA , and began steadily assaulting the Numenorian kingdoms in exile until, one by one, they fell.
Whether the Witch-king was acting on his own or by Sauron's volition is not known.
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