Lebezyatnikov reports that Katerina is going insane out in the streets of Petersburg. She has run to Marmeladov’s old boss demanding money from him, and upon his refusal she has camped out in the streets with the children, singing and dancing for money. Lebezyatnikov says that Katerina might be convinced, through logic, that she is crazy and needs help. Raskolnikov expresses doubt that this is true. He worries, inwardly, that he will begin hating Sonya, even though he has just confessed all to her.
Katerina’s mental breakdown is not dissimilar from Marmeladov’s. She appears to have lost all sense of normalcy, and though she has gone insane, in part, because of the intense pressures she faces in caring for her family, her singing and dancing on the street only drag the family further into disrepute.
Raskolnikov goes back to his apartment, where Dunya arrives, saying she has spoken to Razumikhin and heard of the suspicions levied against Raskolnikov regarding the murder. Dunya says she understands why Raskolnikov is so upset, why he cannot see her or Pulcheria. Raskolnikov replies that Razumikhin is a good man, implying that Dunya and he ought to marry. Dunya fears that they are saying goodbye forever. Raskolnikov wanders outside and Dunya is greatly alarmed, though she does not follow.
Dunya believes that Raskolnikov is upset because others have started a rumor that he is the killer. She is, of course, close to the truth, but she appears unable to accept the fact that Raskolnikov might have committed the crimes. Raskolnikov, for his part, wishes only to get away from Dunya and to leave his mother and sister in the care of Razumikhin.
Lebezyatnikov finds him outside and leads him to the bridge over the canal where Katerina and the children are performing. Katerina tells Sonya, who attempts to help her, to leave, and Katerina corrects the children’s singing and dancing. They perform and those gathering around laugh and jeer at Katerina. A policeman arrives and says that this performance is prohibited in public.
Once again, the morbid scene on the bridge is described. Katerina and the children attempt to sing and dance for money, but onlookers merely laugh at Katerina and wonder what will become of the family. The policeman’s arrival signals that Katerina’s behavior, sadly enough, is illegal: she does not have a permit for the performance. Here there is an implicit criticism of the law. Raskolnikov was wrong to try to create a new order by killing, by breaking the law. But the law is not necessarily kind either; it too can be cold and cruel.
Running after the dispersed crowd, Katerina falls and begins coughing up blood heavily. Sonya and the others fear that she is dying and carry her back to Sonya’s apartment. Katerina raves incoherently and dies with her certificate of merit from her school days next to her.
Katerina, like Marmeladov her husband, falls ill in public fashion, and her misfortune is put on display for all to see. Even as she is dying, she clings to the idea that, when she was young, her family was of estimable rank in society.
Svidrigailov pulls Raskolnikov aside to say he will provide for Katerina’s funeral and for the family after her death. Raskolnikov asks why Svidrigailov is offering his help, and Svidrigailov answers that he has been on the other side of the wall. He hints that he has overheard Raskolnikov’s confession and promises that they will learn to “get along together” in the future.
Svidrigailov shows up just when he is needed, this time with an offer of money for Katerina’s children. Svidrigailov and Porfiry both suspected that Raskolnikov was the killer, and now Svidrigailov has proof of this. Svidrigailov seems to be trying two tactics at once in his efforts to get Raskolnikov to let him elope with Dunya: to convince Raskolnikov of his goodness by helping Katerina's children (including Sonya) and to threaten Raskolnikov into submission.