Years later, on his deathbed, Aureliano Segundo remembers the afternoon he meets his son for the first time, naming him José Arcadio (II). His wife, Fernanda Del Carpio agrees with the name. Úrsula believes it might be a bad idea though, recalling that the Aurelianos of the family are typically withdrawn while the José Arcadios are impulsive and marked by tragedy. The exception is the youthful Segundo twins who were so alike in childhood that even their mother could not tell them apart. The story returns to their childhood, where they switch their clothes in an attempt to fool their teachers. They do everything at the same time, and even seem to sense what the other senses. Aureliano Segundo grows into a strapping youth like his grandfathers and José Arcadio Segundo is slight like the colonel. José Arcadio Segundo asks to witness and execution, but Aureliano Segundo can’t bear the thought.
Again a character recollects on their deathbed one of their most vivid memories, and it’s important to note that Aureliano Segundo is the second person to do this after Colonel Aureliano Buendía because he is the second-most prominent character in the book. Generally, the Aurelianos of the book name their children after themselves and the José Arcadios do the same, but in this case Aureliano Segundo wants to name his son José Arcadio, another indication that perhaps the twins switched identities in their youth and never went back. In general, their temperaments better match the characters of the other name, showing how people’s characteristics are fated from birth, not determined by a name.
Aureliano Segundo shuts himself up on Melquíades’ laboratory, reading a book of the fantastic stories he told, and Úrsula confirms that they are all true, but that the world is coming to an end, so those things don’t happen in Macondo anymore. He finishes reading the book despite many of the stories not having endings because of missing pages. He begins to try to decipher Melquíades’ manuscripts, but the text is indecipherable. One afternoon, the ghost of Melquíades appears and the two visit with each other every afternoon for several years. Melquíades tells Aureliano Segundo that the manuscripts won’t be deciphered until they are 100 years old. Úrsula can’t see Melquíades and so tells Aureliano Segundo that he is following in his great-grandfather’s footsteps talking to himself.
Úrsula can see, before anyone except maybe Melquíades, that Macondo is coming to an end. The magic that once defined the landscape is no more because of the influx of central governance and the ravages of war. The stories not having endings likely results from the fact that the one hundred years that Melquiades said would need to pass before his prophecy could be read and understood have not passed. Melquíades returns once more from the dead, but he is invisible to everyone but Aureliano Segundo, calling back to the way Aureliano Segundo’s great-grandfather was unjustly judged for being crazy.
José Arcadio Segundo witnesses a shooting and, because the man is still smiling after they shoot him, worries that they will bury him alive. This fear causes him to detest all military practices for the rest of his life. He begins to assist Father Antonio Isabel, the next in the line of priests, and his family scolds him for the Conservative practice. Úrsula hopes he might become a priest himself. Father Antonio Isabel prepares José Arcadio Segundo to make his first communion and falls asleep as the boy’s confession takes so long. José Arcadio Segundo is troubled by the question of whether he has had sex with animals and, after asking around, the sexton offers to take him to the place where people have sex with donkeys.
José Arcadio Segundo is young when he witnesses the brutal execution of the man, and his fear of being buried alive echoes with José Arcadio Buendía’s reluctance to bury Melquíades’ body, believing he might come back to life a second time. Úrsula again proves her wisdom in supporting the individual interests and pursuits of her family members by supporting José Arcadio Segundo’s interest in the church, though her hopes for him are quite exaggerated.
José Arcadio Segundo takes a liking to having sex with donkeys and is able to avoid the gossip of Catarino’s store for a long while because of it. He begins to enter cocks into fighting matches. Úrsula notes how different the twins have become despite their similar looks. Aureliano Segundo is approached on the street by a young woman who believes he is his brother, and he has sex with her without correcting her, a habit that goes on for two months. The twins become sick with a venereal disease caught from the young woman, causing José Arcadio Segundo to end the affair, but Aureliano Segundo decides to reveal his true identity to the woman and continues to see her until his death.
The taboo practice of bestiality protects José Arcadio Segundo from the brothel, but the arbitrary lines of propriety are scrutinized in the question of which of these practices is more ethical. Despite his holy occupation, he also falls prey to the lure of the cock fight, one of the only practices that was illegal when Macondo was established. The confusion between the twins continues even though their personalities have become quite different. In an echo of Colonel Aureliano Buendía and José Arcadio both sleeping with Pilar Ternera, the twins also sleep with the same woman, though they respond quite differently when they catch a sickness from her.
The woman’s name is Petra Cotes, a mixed-race widow. Úrsula bristles at the way the twins seem to embody all of the negative aspects of the family line and none of the positive. She vows that no children will receive these same two names again, but when Aureliano Segundo denies this request, she demands that she raise the child herself. By this point she is 100 years old and nearly blind. Úrsula declares that, with any luck, this child will grow up to be the Pope. Aureliano Segundo has had an immense amount of luck breeding fertile animals and earning a fortune, an effect of the passion he experiences with Petra Cotes, splitting his time between her home where the animals are kept and his own.
Úrsula blames the repetition of names over the years for the way the bad habits of each generation seem to become more and more concentrated (here shown by Aureliano Segundo’s unmarried relationship with Pilar Cotes and José Arcadio Segundo’s cockfighting habit). When Aureliano Segundo insists on naming his son José Arcadio, though, Úrsula puts the hope in him that he will be the pope that his uncle never was. During Aureliano Segundo’s affair with the widow Petra Cotes, their passion produces a great deal of wealth in the form of livestock, suggesting that a fruitful union could result from the improper marriage of a man to a woman already widowed.
Aureliano Segundo tries to learn how to create the gold fishes from Colonel Aureliano Buendía, but he grows quickly bored and returns to his livestock and Petra Cotes. He makes such a fortune that he wallpapers both the outside and inside of the Buendía house in one peso banknotes. Úrsula has them removed, and, in the process, a statue filled with gold coins is broken. She buries the coins, hoping the men who left them there will return for them eventually.
Aureliano Segundo attempts to learn the ways of his namesake, but doesn’t have the right temperament for it. His success at raising livestock prompts him to flaunt his money, wasting it by using it as wallpaper. When Úrsula, embarrassed, has them removed, she finds even more money in an unexpected place and this can be seen as a reward for her more modest ways. She hides it away for the future, rather than spending it.
The adobe houses of Macondo have been replaced with brick buildings. José Arcadio (I) attempts to open a boat line through the river, a near impossible task. Úrsula has a sense of déjà vu, as though she has already witnessed this same pursuit. Aureliano Segundo gives his brother the money he needs to finish the project. José Arcadio Segundo is gone for a long while, and people speculate that the request for a boat was a con, but one day a craft approaches on the river, bearing José Arcadio Segundo and numerous French matrons. The matrons close Catarino’s store and promote a carnival. José Arcadio Segundo goes back to cockfighting.
The town is slowly changing, marked by the different style of buildings. José Arcadio Segundo continues his grandfather’s pattern of completing impossible tasks by trying to navigate a boat through the shallow river, and Úrsula recognizes the action as an echo of her husband. The introduction of the French matrons on the boat marks another culture shift for the town, and once José Arcadio Segundo finally accomplishes his arbitrary goal, he goes back to his old ways, suggesting that the boat remains stranded inland, similar to the Spanish galleon found decades before by his great-grandfather.
Remedios the Beauty is named queen of the carnival. Úrsula thinks this is a bad idea as she has been trying to keep her great-grandddaughter out of sight of the men of the town, allowing her to go only to church. A foreigner arrives to town and offers Remedios the Beauty a flower at mass. Seeing her unveiled face for only an instant, from then on he plays music outside her window, trying to woo her. Remedios the Beauty remains completely oblivious to his advances. She is a simple creature who can barely take care of herself.
Remedios the Beauty’s powers of attraction have been seen as a threat and a distraction, and so Úrsula, in all her prudence, has attempted to keep her a secret. All of these efforts are made null by her being named queen of the carnival. Remedios the Beauty is so unaffected by the bold advances of her suitors that she doesn’t even register their presence, causing her family to question if she possesses all of the faculties of her mind.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía remains interested in only his gold fishes, shutting down all attempts to talk to him about the state of the country. He believes that the secret to good old age is to remain solitary. He is oblivious to the merriment of the carnival.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía has reached the ultimate state of his solitude, refusing to talk about any matters of war or politics, and sure that he can die relatively happy if he only remains alone.
At the carnival, another queen arrives who appears to possess real authority, dressed in an emerald crown and ermine cape. Aureliano Segundo seats the two queens beside each other. A cry goes out in support of the Liberal party and rifle shots are lost in the clamor of fireworks. Many dead and wounded lie in the square and the bedouins who had accompanied the second queen are nowhere to be found. Aureliano Segundo carries the second queen to the house. Her name is Fernanda del Carpio, chosen as the most beautiful of 5000 women, and promised that in Macondo she would be named Queen of Madagascar. Six months later, after the massacre, Aureliano Segundo goes to retrieve her from her town so that he might make her his wife. They are married in a celebration that lasts 20 days.
Rather than placing one queen above another, Aureliano Segundo attempts to give them even footing. Fernanda del Carpio’s arrival from a Conservative family and the threat she poses to Liberal happiness can be interpreted as the cause of the shots fired. Aureliano Segundo attempts to protect the noble-looking second queen. The promise she received, that she would be named Queen of Madagascar in Macondo, is nonsensical and hints at how truly sheltered Fernanda has been from the rest of the world. Aureliano, despite his passion for Petra Cotes, cannot resist the allure of regal Fernanda and pursues her instead of his lover.