The Narrator jumps forward to the days following Santiago’s murder. Santiago’s body, which is ravaged and quickly decomposing, is put on public display in his own living room. Before they can bury him an autopsy must be performed, but Dr. Dionisio Aguarán is abroad. Under normal circumstances the duty would then fall to Cristo Bedoya, but he is excused due to his intimate relationship with Santiago. Finally, Father Amador agrees to perform the autopsy.
What was once a walking, talking, singing Santiago Nasar is suddenly a hacked-up piece of meat. The transformation is shocking. The insistence that there be an autopsy is strange given the public nature of the death: an autopsy won’t really discover anything about murder that isn’t already known, as nearly everyone in town saw it happen.
The autopsy, which is clumsily executed, finds that seven of Santiago’s many wounds were fatal. His liver is sliced to pieces, his intestines and lungs and stomach perforated, his pancreas destroyed. In addition he has minor wounds all over his arms and hands, including ones that look like “the stigmata of Christ.” Father Amador weighs Santiago’s brain, and determines that Santiago was of greater than average intelligence, and had a bright future ahead of him. However, he notes that Santiago also had an enlarged liver—likely the result of poorly treated hepatitis—and would have died in a few years anyway. Dr. Dionisio Iguarán, when he finally returns, disagrees with this hypothesis, arguing that Caribbean people have naturally large livers. When the body is returned to Plácida Linero, it is practically in pieces. They have to rush to bury it, because it’s beginning to stink up the house.
The haphazard, brutal autopsy is less a scientific procedure that it is an extension of the violence Santiago has already suffered. It is performed as a formality, a ritual for ritual’s sake (and by a priest, moreover). While the reference to stigmata seems to portray Santiago as a Christ figure, the passage also strongly emphasizes the mortality of Santiago’s flesh: unlike Christ’s, his body rots and falls apart. The disagreement between Dionisio and Father Amador over Santiago’s life expectancy once again brings up the question of fate: was death out to get Santiago no matter what? Dr. Iguarán, a man of science, and Father Amador, a man of faith, represent in miniature the two opposing interpretations of Santiago’s murder: that it was the work of God, and that it was the work of men.
The Narrator, grieving, finds solace in María Alejandrina Cervantes’ bed. He finds her feasting—this is her way of grieving. They begin to have sex, but suddenly María pushes him away, saying that he smells like Santiago. The Narrator agrees—everything smells of Santiago that day.
María’s ravenous hunger is a jarring follow-up to the description of Santiago’s body: there is something at once endearing and profane about it. The pervasive smell of Santiago is a physical manifestation of the trauma the town has suffered, foreshadowing the ways in which the murder will haunt the town in years to come.
It even smells of Santiago in Pablo and Pedro Vicario’s jail cell. They are there awaiting trial, unable to afford bail. The cell is exceedingly comfortable, but the twins are in hell. Pedro’s gonorrhea is causing him extreme pain, and he can’t bring himself to sleep. Pablo comes down with a “pestilential diarrhea.” They begin to worry that they’ve been poisoned—perhaps by vengeful Arabs (Santiago’s father was an Arab). Colonel Lázaro Aponte goes around interviewing the Arabs living in town. He finds them confused and sad, but not bloodthirsty.
The murder instigates startling—and strangely opposite—physical reactions in the twins. Further, the suspicions of Arab conspiracy, which are soundly discredited, reveal that the townsfolk’s notion of justice is by no means universal. Unlike the twins, the Arabs never think to meet violence with violence.
The rest of the Vicario family decides to leave town. Pura Vicario wraps Angela’s head in a towel to hide the bruises from her beating, and dresses her in a red dress to preempt any suspicions that Angela might be in mourning for Santiago. Pura asks Father Amador to confess Pedro and Pablo, but Pedro refuses, claiming that the two have not committed a sin. The twins are transferred to a larger prison in Riohacha, where they will await trial for three years. The Narrator here inserts a glimpse of their futures after their acquittal. Pablo takes up his father’s profession, working as a goldsmith. Pedro returns to the military, and is eventually killed by Guerillas.
Even after the Vicario family’s guise of decency and moral purity has come crashing down, Pura insists on keeping up appearances. Her attempts to do so are ham-handed, almost farcical, and probably draw more attention than they deflect. The Narrator’s discussion of the twins’ ultimate fate is so brief as to be anticlimactic. Depending on whether one views the twins as villains or victims, this anticlimax is either relieving or extremely frustrating.
Suddenly, everyone in town remembers Bayardo San Román. Colonel Aponte takes a patrol up to the widower Xius’ house, and finds Bayardo in the final stages of alcohol poisoning. His family is summoned back to town. Only his sisters and mother show up, and they all make a huge show of grieving for Bayardo’s misfortune—the Narrator can’t help but think they’re covering up “greater shames.” They drag off Bayardo, who seems half dead. Now empty, the widower Xius’ house begins to waste away.
The murder forces the townsfolk’s attention inward, and in the process Bayardo is completely forgotten. The neglect reveals that, despite his impressiveness—or maybe because of it—Bayardo never really made a place for himself within the community. His sisters’ melodramatic display of grief is yet another example of empty ritual used to disguise rather than express emotion.
The Narrator now focuses on recounting Angela Vicario’s life after the murder. Many years later, the Narrator travels to the backwater town where Angela eventually settled. He finds her older-looking and somewhat pitiful, but ultimately mature and witty. The Narrator probes her, trying to tease out the truth about her relationship with Santiago Nasar—he doesn’t believe they were ever involved—but Angela deflects his questions, saying only that Santiago was the one.
After her public disgrace, Angela suffers an arguably greater punishment than her brothers. She becomes a victim to the cultural obsession with purity, spending long years of solitude as a literal seamstress. Her refusal to corroborate or fully reject the Narrator’s suspicions is perhaps the greatest mystery of the novel. No one, it seems, will ever know why Santiago died.
She goes on to tell the Narrator that, on her fateful wedding night, she couldn’t bring herself to try the tricks her friends had suggested she use on Bayardo—to do so seemed indecent. Then she recalls that, when her mother started beating her, she found herself thinking of Bayardo. She admits that she continued thinking about him for years, until she happened to see him in a hotel in Riohacha. He didn’t see her. She went crazy for him.
Angela’s refusal of her friends’ tricks—her stoic resignation to fate—constitutes a sound rejection of her family’s obsession with ritual and desperate maintenance of appearances. Her sudden fixation on Bayardo, whom she once felt nothing for, is mysterious and never fully explained. More than anything it seems to be an act of God.
She tells the narrator that, after their encounter in the hotel, she began writing letters to Bayardo. He never replied, but Angela found that the more she wrote to him, and the longer he went without replying, the more she went crazy for him. Finally, after seventeen years of not responding, Bayardo shows up on Angela’s doorstep, wearing the same clothes he wore when she first saw him. He is carrying a suitcase with clothing “in order to stay,” and has another suitcase full of her letters, all of them unopened.
Angela’s obsessive, blind letter writing is its own kind of ritual, one driven to obsessive extremes. And yet unlike the traditional rituals taken up by her family and other members of the community, hers arises from a place of personal conviction; it isn’t the result of societal expectations and pressures.