This is one of those times when there is a difference between a list and an array in Perl. It seems hard to produce a concise definition of the difference, but to a first approximation an array is a list with a name (such as @a in your examples). So qw(a b c d e) is a list which you have assigned to @a.
What you have exposed is that in scalar context, a array and list (both containing the same data) have different values. The value, in scalar context, of an array, is the number of elements. The value, in scalar context, of a list, is the last item in that list.
Update. See perlfaq4
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