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Isildur was the elder son of Elendil. His first notable act was during the time when Sauron had begun to influence the people of Numenor. Through the influence of Sauron, the king had decreed that it was forbidden to approach the Meneltarma, which was a place hallowed for Eru Ilúvatar. Sauron also persuaded the king to cut down the white tree Nimloth that grew in Armenelos from a sapling taken from a great tree in Valinor. Isildur went in disguise to Armenelos by night, which was forbidden, and took a fruit from the tree. He was wounded many times by guards as he escaped but he survived. This fruit was planted and the sapling was taken with Isildur as he escaped the destruction of Numenor.

When Elendil arrived in Middle Earth, he established the realm of Arnor in the north while his sons Isildur and Anarion established the realm of Gondor in the south. The main dwelling place of Isildur was Minas Ithil while the main dwelling place of Anarion was Minas Arnor. Their chief city was Osgiliath which bridged the Anduin river. They ruled from Osgiliath in thrones that sat side by side.

Isildur planted the sapling from Nimloth in Minas Ithil. Later when the city was attacked and taken by Sauron, the white tree there was destroyed, but Isildur was able to take a sapling and escape.

Isildur is mostly remembered for his deeds during the last alliance. During the great battle at the end of the Second Age, the human and elven armies of Elendil and Gil-Galad attacked the fortress of Sauron. During the battle, Sauron killed Elendil and Gil-Galad. Isildur took the broken hilt of his father's sword and cut Sauron's ring of power from his finger which ended his power for that time.

Rather than destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom, he decided to keep the ring for himself. He took it with him back to Minas Arnor. While there, he planted the sapling from the white tree in the court of the city in memory of his brother who had died in the battle. He left the kingdom of Gondor to his brother's son Meneldil and went north to rule his father's kingdom of Arnor.

As his group travelled north along the eastern shores of the Anduin river, his group was attacked by a group of orcs in the Gladden Fields. His three eldest sons Elendur, Aratan and Ciryon were all killed though he escaped by putting on the ring (which made him invisible). Orcs hunted him by scent until he came to the river. As he was swimming across, the ring betrayed him and slipped from his finger. As he became visible again the orcs killed him with arrows.

Only three of Isildur's group survived that attack. One of them was his esquire Ohtar who had the shards of Elendil's sword with him. He brought these to Isildur's youngest son, Valandil, who had stayed in Rivendell as he was too young to go to battle. Valandil then became the heir of Isildur and continued the line of the kings of Arnor. Elrond foretold that the shards of Elendil's sword would be reforged when the ruling ring was found and Sauron returned, though they hoped this would never happen.

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