After the funeral, many different people come after Charles for money, but he refuses to sell anything that belonged to Emma. Lheureux pesters him with bills, the piano-teacher who never gave any lessons demands six months pay, and even Mère Rolet asks for money for delivering Emma’s letters. Félicité steals almost all of Emma’s clothes and runs off with a lover.
Charles, one of the only truly (or even only) good-hearted characters in the novel, is punished for his good heart as harshly as Emma was punished for her bad. The novel’s moralizing impulse is tempered by its bleak misanthropy and lawlessness, its sense that everything always turns out badly, that those who are good or have ideals are preyed upon by those who do not.
Some time later Charles finds Rodolphe’s last letter to Emma, but he forces himself to interpret it as a letter of friendship. He soon has to sell almost everything in the house, but he tries to behave and dress as Emma had wanted him to. Berthe becomes very ragged, but Charles loves watching her and playing with her.
Emma’s death is followed by waves of destruction that fall on everyone close to her. Her extravagant habits help to ruin Charles and Berthe from beyond the grave.
The man with the infected eyelids tells everyone of Homais’s false promise. Homais writes many poisonous articles in the newspaper denouncing the man as a blight on society, and he is sent to prison. Homais writes in the newspaper more and more often on various subjects, “guided always by a love of progress and a hatred of priests.” He is happy and successful, but he badly wants to be awarded the Legion of Honour, a prestigious award. He campaigns for the award and does favors for various officials.
Homais has transitioned in character from annoying but benevolent, to selfish and hypocritical, and finally to malevolent and amoral. His obsession with his own reputation (an obsession absolutely distinct from a desire for meaningful professional achievement) causes him to have a sick, mentally ill man thrown in jail.
One day, Charles looks inside a secret compartment in Emma’s desk. He finds a large stack of love letters from Léon and Rodolphe. He stops taking care of himself; he no longer sees patients and rarely leaves the house. Sometimes he takes Berthe to Emma’s grave.
Charles may not live in a world of abstractions, like Emma, but he, too, has ideals –a loving image of his wife being chief among them. The love letters destroy that ideal and sever Charles’ link to society.
Not long afterwards, Berthe finds Charles dead in the garden. Berthe is sent, penniless, to her grandmother. Soon the elder Madame Bovary dies, too, and Berthe goes to live with a poor aunt and starts work in a cotton-mill. Homais, though, is prospering, and has received the Legion of Honour.
Every innocent person has suffered horribly and lost, and the worst have won. This chaotic vision is the predictable end of a society that fails to truly distinguish between the best and the worst. The completely innocent child Berthe is punished with a hard life of poverty. The canny, self serving Homais is rewarded by society with highest honors.