At the end of Episode VI, Luke had beaten Darth Vader in a duel, but didn't seem to injure the latter critically — all Luke did was to sever Vader's right hand, which was a prosthetic to begin with. So, why did Vader die after he had thrown the emperor off the deck and saved Luke?
To add to what jwenting said, you can clearly see Vader hit by the emperor strikes.
You can check on this HD video.
Here are some screenshots for the proof of the hits.
Vader was probably mortally wounded by the blasts of energy released during the fight, if I remember correctly he was hit multiple times by the Emperor. As he depended on his suit for survival, and it's conceivable the systems in that suit could become overloaded by that energy release, he could possibly be killed by blasts that the healthier, younger, Skywalker could (barely) survive.
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Vader's suit was a life support suit - he couldn't survive outside of it.
The long combat with Luke pushed him towards his physical limits - he is at least 20 years older than Luke, and with very poor health. He'd been drawing heavily on the Force to keep himself moving.
He was injured - the suit was damaged when the cybernetics in his right arm were damaged.
THEN he suffered the extreme emotional turmoil of seeing his son being tortured to death.
When he intervened to stop it (by killing the person who had been his mentor for 20+ years, who had saved his life, and who had helped him save the galaxy - from his POV, at least) he was subjected to several seconds of sustained Force Lightning.
This played merry hell with his already-damaged suit.
The man was beaten into the ground, had to choose between his greatest friend's life and his son's, was electrocuted, and had decades-old mental wounds torn open.
It's not surprising that he died, it's surprising that he lived as long as he did.
"Did you ever hear the tale of Darth Plagueis?" The Supreme chancellor (Palpatine) asks Anakin Skywalker this question during the civic performance from his VIP box seat? Thus, preempting a response by Anakin. This is turn sets the stage for the story of a Sith Lord that was so powerful he could even escape death.
Certainly, the suit allowed Vader to live and it's beyond dispute the suit was damaged from the Emperor's force lighting assault on Luke that also rippled through Vader. But I return to Palpatine's original question from SW III and the dark side power his story revealed - the ability to escape even death, and "if we work together (to save Padame)..." These are vital dialogue clues.
I believe Vader's death is not as simple as some would argue. The Force never is. Thus, the suit failure was not catastrophic. It was the Emperor's and Vader's dark side force powers that allowed Vader to thrive from the knowledge of Darth Plagueis- "If we work together"...
Once the Emperor was removed from the equation, Vader's death was inevitable... Vader understood this all to well. It also explains why, after 20 plus years, Vader never slew Palpatine, and became the Emperor himself, which is what Sith do - if anyone has studied their history?
This is why Vader told Luke it was too late. If it were only a matter of the suits mechanical failure though, there would have been time for Luke to get him medical aid by leaving the mask on. He was still laboring with breath. But there is more to it than that.
It had been the dark side of the force that sustained Vader through Palpatine all along. With Vader's sudden disconnection to such power, as well as his turning back to the light side (meaning Vader would not invoke dark side force energy to sustain himself), Vader simply chose to let go... He had found his true peace.
Thus, Vader/Anakin allowed the will of the force to prevail, and in the process fulfilled the prophecy of bringing balance to the force not in a way foreseen by either Jedi or Sith.
In conjunction with the life support suit it was probably Anakin's hatred and anger fueling his Sith abilities that allowed him to sustain himself from the end of Eps3 through to Eps6. As he remembered what it was to be a true Jedi by interacting with his son (as early as tESB) that anger began to subside, compromising his Dark Side ability. When he finally died it was likely because he had made peace with himself and simply stopped wanting to live.
You are all missing something, remember when the Emperor was thrown over the rail
and into the shaft Luke crawled over to Vader and his breathing was VERY labored,
My theory anyway ...:)