Officials found the first man's body earlier Wednesday.
The men were identified as John Brian Taylor, 21, and Michael Patrick McDowell, 20.
At about 2 a.m. Wednesday, Taylor, McDowell and a third man, whose name was not released, swam across the river and walked to the Milburnie Dam near the east river canoe launch, police said.
Just before 3 a.m., the men began to swim back. When one of the men called out for help, the other two men swam out to help but couldn't get to him, officials said. Only one man made it out of the water.
“The gentleman that called us had been diving under the water trying to find his friend to see if he could find him underwater. When he resurfaced he didn't see his original friend or the friend who went in to rescue him,” Jeff Hammerstein, Wake emergency services chief, said.
William Riley said his son, McDowell, was very athletic and a very good swimmer. McDowell was a star running back at East Wake High School and graduated a few years ago, his father said.
Nancy Leatherwood, a family friend of McDowell, said the section of the Neuse River the men were visiting is a popular nighttime hangout.
“It is very dark down there, you can't see (and) that's part of the problem,” Leatherwood said.