c. 1200, "latest, final, following all others," a contraction of Old English latost (adj.) "slowest, latest," superlative of læt (see late); in some uses from late (adv.). Cognate with Old Frisian lest, Dutch laatst, Old High German laggost, German letzt.
Meaning "last in space, furthest, most remote" is from late 14c.; meaning "most unlikely or unsuitable" is from mid-15c. Meaning "most recent, next before the present" (as in last night, last September) is from late 14c.; latest would be more correct, but idiom rules and the last time I saw her might mean the most recent time this hour or the final time forever.
The biblical last days ("belonging to the end") is attested from late 14c. Last hurrah is from the title of Edwin O'Connor's 1956 novel. Last word "final, definitive statement" is from 1650s. A dying person's last words so called by 1740. As an adjective, last-minute attested from 1913. Last-chance (adj.) is from 1962. Expression if it's the last thing I do, expressing strong determination, is attested by 1905.
"wooden model of a human foot used by shoemakers," from Old English læste "shoemaker's last," earlier last "track, footprint, footstep, trace," from Proto-Germanic *laisti- (source also of Old Norse leistr "the foot," Middle Dutch, Dutch leest "form, model, last," Old High German leist "track, footprint," German Leisten "last," Gothic laistjan "to follow"), related to Old English læran "to teach," from PIE root *lois- "furrow, track."
"endure, go on existing," from Old English læstan "to continue, endure," earlier "follow (a leader), accomplish, carry out, perform," from Proto-Germanic *laistjan "to follow a track" (source also of Gothic laistjan "to follow after," Old Frisian lasta "to fulfill, to pay (duties)," German leisten "to perform, achieve, afford"), from PIE root *lois- "furrow, track." It is related to last (n.1), but not to last (adj.). Related: Lasted; lasting.
"on the last line of defense," 1909, from an image attested by 1715, from a quote attributed to William of Orange (1650-1702), who is said to have uttered it defiantly during the French invasion of 1672; if so, originally in a Netherlands context.
We have no space to enter into the detail of the heroic struggle maintained by the young stadtholder and his faithful Dutchmen; how they laid their country under water, and successfully kept the powerful invader at bay. Once the contest seemed utterly hopeless. William was advised to compromise the matter, and yield up Holland as the conquest of Louis XIV. "No," replied he; "I mean to die in the last ditch." A speech alone sufficient to render his memory immortal. [Agnes Strickland, "Lives of the Queens of England," London, 1847]
"last but one," 1530s, abbreviation of penultima. As a noun from 1570s as "last day but one of a month;" grammatical sense of "last syllable but one of a word" is by 1828.
"last syllable but one of a word or verse, a penult," 1580s, from Latin pænultima (syllaba), "the next to the last syllable of a word or verse," from fem. of Latin adjective pænultimus "next-to-last," from pæne "almost" (a word of uncertain origin) + ultimus "final" (see ultimate).