The first day of school arrives. As Antonio and Andrew walk to school, Andrew says that when he came back from the war his home seemed different and smaller. They meet the Vitamin Kid and Samuel and race across the bridge, and the Kid beats them as usual. Andrew hangs back and Antonio tells Samuel how he saw the golden carp. Samuel is pleased, but he warns Antonio to watch out for the other kids, especially because of Ultima and her encounter with Tenorio, which they won't understand.
Andrew confirms how the outside world changed him too much to feel at home in Guadalupe again. Samuel gives Antonio courage to be different, and defend his unconventional beliefs, particularly concerning Ultima's goodness. Samuel has experienced more of the prejudice of society.
The other town boys are rowdy as usual, and make fun of Antonio's brother for "whoring," which Antonio doesn't understand. One of the boys, Ernie, calls Ultima a witch. Antonio starts to fight him and the other boys all pile on. The fight is quickly broken up, but no one teases Antonio about Ultima after that.
The boys are once more Antonio's window into society. Antonio learns that adulthood is about fighting for his beliefs as much as choosing them, and in this he has had a good example from Gabriel. He is able to gain the boys' respect.
A harsh winter comes to the llano before Christmas. The last thing before the school's vacation is a Christmas play, but on the day of the play there is a huge blizzard. Antonio decides to go to school while his sisters stay home, and Andrew comes along to get his check from work. On the way they run into Samuel, who tells them that Narciso and Tenorio fought drunkenly the night before. Andrew laughs at the story, but Samuel says their feud will end in blood.
Samuel has respect for Narciso, but Andrew treats Narciso like a joke. He has not yet learned to find the humanity in everyone. The snowstorm from the llano echoes the harsh dust storms of the summer, and implies that supernatural elements will come with it.
The gang of boys is at school but no girls show up, so the teacher, Miss Violet, decides the boys will play all the parts themselves. Bones refuses to play a girl and climbs onto a ceiling beam and won't come down. Horse screams and fights until he is finally convinced to play the Virgin. Abel tries to leave for the bathroom the whole time but Miss Violet won't let him. The practice goes horribly wrong, and Bones especially is beyond Miss Violet's control.
The group of boys acts as comic relief here, and Anaya shows the way adolescents can relate to each other in a way that is very different from Antonio, even though he is somewhat part of the group. Horse as Virgin is a cruel but hilarious parody of Antonio's beloved figure.
The pageant starts immediately afterward (the audience is just other grades and teachers) and quickly degenerates into a huge farce. Abel starts peeing on the stage, Horse punches Antonio (who is playing Joseph), and the head of the baby Jesus doll falls off. It ends in a big fight. When it is over all everyone runs away, as school is over for the holiday. Antonio is one of the few who stay behind to help clean up. When he is done he realizes how hard it is snowing outside, but he still resolves to walk home through the storm.
The disaster of the Christmas pageant serves as a lighthearted parody of religion, but also is an example of the Chicano boys making Catholic religion their own – even if that means turning it into a farce. Antonio proves one of the most responsible ones, and again an outsider, when he stays to clean up afterward.
The town is empty and eerie as he walks, and Antonio comes upon Narciso and Tenorio fighting savagely and cursing each other outside a bar. Finally the bartender pulls them apart. Tenorio says another of his daughters is dying, and again accuses Ultima. He threatens Narciso with death and then disappears.
Narciso is drunk again, but he still has the courage and character to defend Ultima, who is a figure of goodness and innocence for him. Tenorio again has good reason to be angry, with another dying daughter.
Narciso is distressed and intends to go warn Ultima that she is in danger. Antonio is also worried, and he follows Narciso. Narciso looks for Andrew first, and turns towards Rosie's house. Antonio doesn't understand until Narciso starts knocking on the door and yelling for Andrew.
The situation starts to echo Antonio's dream of long ago. He still doesn't comprehend, just as he didn't understand the talk about "whoring," but though he tries to cling to his innocent ignorance Antonio is too curious, and he cannot stop following the action.
Rosie comes out and Antonio smells perfume and hears laughter from inside. She mocks Narciso but then Andrew emerges from the house, and Antonio feels sick to see him. He remembers his dream where Andrew promised not to enter the brothel until Antonio lost his innocence. Antonio wonders if he has already lost his innocence somehow, and if it is because of the golden carp.
This scene brings together many of Antonio's anxieties – he fears for his brother's soul, as Andrew has committed mortal sin, and he fears for his own soul because of his supposed lost innocence. There is also the idea here that Antonio sinned just by gaining knowledge, whether knowledge of the carp or the truth about Andrew.
Andrew stands with his arm around a girl. He downplays Narciso's warnings and invites him to come inside. Narciso gets upset and begs Andrew to come with him, but Andrew finally shuts the door on him. Narciso laments that the whores have corrupted Andrew and that now he must travel on to the stormy llano alone. Antonio feels feverish but keeps following after Narciso.
Andrew takes the easy way out here, acting like the Lunas did before in refusing to go out of his way to warn Ultima of danger. Antonio realizes another of his idealized family members is flawed, and he sees that there are very few people willing to suffer for the things they believe in.
As he walks Antonio worries that he is no longer innocent, and his communion is still far away, and he wonders if his father can protect Ultima. He slips into a reverie and then hears a gunshot. He comes upon Narciso and Tenorio fighting again, and realizes Narciso has been shot. Narciso keeps fighting but Tenorio shoots him again and then curses at Narciso's fallen body. Antonio screams and Tenorio sees him. He tries to shoot Antonio but is out of bullets. He curses Antonio and then flees.
Antonio is still concerned with his own fate and the rules of Catholicism, but at the same time he believes in the power of his dreams, which is a kind of magic. Tenorio might be justified in hating Ultima, but his murder of Narciso comes from pure spite and vengeance. Tenorio shows he is willing to kill a child, and Antonio realizes he has endangered himself by defending Ultima.
Antonio is in shock, but he goes to Narciso. The juniper trees make a sort of confessional booth, and Narciso asks that Antonio pray for him, as he is pure of heart. Antonio prays the Act of Contrition like he did for Lupito. Narciso whispers his confession into Antonio's ear, and says he is glad to be here on the llano, and then dies.
Antonio acts as the priest again, but this time the death is more real and upsetting than Lupito's, as Narciso is a friend. Narciso's assertion that Antonio is "pure of heart" seems to go against the realization that Antonio just had about his innocence, though perhaps it is a deeper insight than Antonio is yet capable.
Antonio comes home with blood on his hands and tells what happened. His parents are in shock but Ultima immediately carries Antonio to bed. He falls into a fever and Ultima tends to him while he suffers nightmares of the murder.
Ultima takes action as the mentor and mother-figure once more. This is Antonio's greatest trial yet, and he must dream to process it fully.
In his dreams Antonio asks God to forgive Andrew, but God refuses. God says he will forgive Narciso, but only if he can also forgive Tenorio. Antonio protests and then sees the Virgin, who says she forgives everyone, even Tenorio. God says Antonio wants a god who punishes and forgives according to Antonio's whims – but even the golden carp would not give up the power of punishment.
In the dream, God acts as the part of Antonio that is angry with Andrew and the part that wants to hate Tenorio without trying to understand or forgive him. God also points out that even the golden carp could not resist punishing sinners. Antonio wants something in between, but in the dream even the Virgin does not satisfy him.
The townspeople come to wash in a river of Narciso and Lupito's blood, and then demand Ultima's blood as well. Antonio's brothers appears and ask him to bless and forgive them. Then the Trementina sisters cut his hair and make a curse with it. Antonio withers away and dies. His family dies in a fire, and the people kill Ultima and all the river's carp. Then all the townspeople die as well.
The mob wanting blood is similar to Antonio's blind hatred for Tenorio, and all the desecration and destruction show the pointless violence of hatred and vengeance. This is the first time Antonio has died in his own dream. The dream suggests the cycle of violence, as it inevitably leads to the death of everyone.
When there is no one left the Lunas gather the ashes and evening comes. The golden carp appears. He has decided that everything will be made new, and he has swallowed even good and evil. He ascends as a new sun to shine down on the new world.
Antonio realizes in his subconscious that the golden carp does not solely mean more destruction, but that he offers a salvation as well and a sort of all-encompassing harmony similar to Ultima's worldview.