If you ask a question, and get no answers, so you then add a bounty, and still get no answers, what happens? Do you lose your points to the ether? Does the bounty get canceled?
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As I understand it, the bounty status is a permanent one:
then that is called an "unresolved" bounty, and its status is, again, permanent.
The side effect is: if a great answer comes after the expiration of your "unresolved" bounty, you will not able to select it, you will only be able to vote it up.
See also Why an answer can’t be accepted after an unresolved bounty? (10k only).
As Ian's comment says, I believe even if no answer ends up accepted after a week, you still lose the reputation associated with the bounty. I believe this is because, as Marc Gravell points out, the bounty system is essentially a way to publicize your question. Therefore, you still have to pay for the advertising, whether it ends up with an accepted answer or not.
Someone please correct me if I am wrong and I will update my information.
According to Jeff Atwood in this blog entry [Reputation Bounty for Unanswered Questions:]
If there are no answers, then the condition that an answer is greater than 0 has not been met (*see note below). So I believe the logic is already in place not to auto-accept an answer. However, it seems that bounties are paid up front. Even if there is no accepted answer, you do not get the reputation back. "No returns."
*Note: According to this post, it seems that "auto-accept requires 2+ upvotes minimum"
Also, there are three alerts sent to the bounty question owner:
edit: bounties can now be re-opened, and accepted answers are no longer tied to bounty awards in any way. More details at http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/06/improvements-to-bounty-system/