Feeling sad about the events at school, Tom returns home for lunch, only to be confronted by a weeping Aunt Polly, who reveals that she has learned from Mrs. Harper that Tom's dream wasn't real. Joe had told his mother a more complete account of the boys' time away, including Tom's trip back into town to see Aunt Polly.
Tom's long spell of lying without punishment has ended, but the punishment he receives in new. Rather than getting a slap, he is faced with the sight of Aunt Polly's heartfelt tears and the realization that he has truly hurt her.
Tom is dismayed that Aunt Polly thinks he took her grief lightly. He swears that he did write the message on the bark, but didn't leave it because he couldn't resist attending his own funeral.
Upset at having so hurt his aunt's feelings, Tom behaves maturely. He doesn't tell another lie to get himself out of trouble—his usual tactic to avoid trouble.
Cheered up, Aunt Polly sends Tom back to school. When he's gone, she fights the urge to check whether the bark is still in his jacket pocket—proving he was telling the truth—because she knows she'll likely be disappointed. Finally, she gives in and checks the pocket. The bark is inside, and she exclaims: "I could forgive the boy if he'd committed a million sins!"
Aunt Polly should take Tom at his word, but she selfishly craves actual confirmation of his feelings of love her, so she sneaks into his pockets. When she learns he has been truthful, she admits she'll keep bending the rules for him. Aunt Polly, like Tom and Becky, is prone to poor judgment in her very human desire to feel her affection for another is confirmed.