José Arcadio (II) prepares to leave for the seminary. Meme prepares to go to the convent to become a nun. Úrsula has gone almost completely blind, but has managed to keep it a secret from everyone. She sets about memorizing distances, voices, odors and becomes so adept at continuing to function that at times she herself forgets she is blind. When Fernanda loses her wedding ring, it is Úrsula who finds it. She has become aware that all of her family members follow basically the same path each day, performing the same actions and saying the same things. Only when they deviate from these habits do they tend to lose something and so she was able to predict where Fernanda had placed her ring, by registering what she had done differently that day.
Úrsula, even when blind, is the most practical of the bunch, tracking everyone’s whereabouts and keeping her disability a secret, alone in her knowledge of her condition. Her observational skills (learning people’s daily habits, sounds, and scents) teach her that it is only when patterns are broken that things go wrong or are lost. This builds on the circular patterns of the story, showing the trouble caused by broken patterns, such as the misnamed Aureliano Segundo and José Arcadio Segundo.
Úrsula reexamines her life and comes to the decision that Colonel Aureliano Buendía never loved anyone. She determines that he fought only out of sinful pride. She sees that Amaranta’s hardness of heart is actually a version of tenderness, and she pities these two children of whom she has been harshly judgmental. She remembers Rebeca and regrets their estrangement, recognizing that Rebeca is the best representative of the courage she hoped her line might produce. She wanders the house, with her right arm raised like the Archangel Gabriel, and the family assumes she is suffering from dementia, but Fernanda believes that Úrsula’s words have a prophetic quality. Pilar Ternera, almost 100 years old herself, agrees that old age can provide a clearer vision of the future.
In reflecting on her life, Úrsula’s idealism about her children transforms into a more realistic view of their natures, but instead of this making her love them less, it prompts her to love them even more, showing wisdom and compassion she’s gained in her old age. With less human interaction, she is left with her thoughts and memories, reimagining them in a way that is not dissimilar to the way that Pilar Ternera reimagined the past with her fortune telling cards in the time of amnesia. Úrsula also takes on a religious quality for those, like Fernanda, who believe—but others believe she is losing her mind, another echo of the way the family assumed José Arcadio Buendía was speaking gibberish, but it just turned out he was speaking Latin.
José Arcadio (II) leaves for the seminary and Meme is taken to school. Amaranta begins to sew her own burial shroud. José Arcadio Segundo gives up his fighting cocks and takes a job working for the banana company. Aureliano Segundo, his children away at school and his wife strict, moves all of his operations to Petra Cotes’ house. Fernanda sends over his clothes, too, and Aureliano Segundo celebrates his freedom. He and Petra Cotes experience a revival of their initial passion for one another.
Amaranta receives a message from God telling her when to begin sewing her burial shroud, and that she will die when it is complete, though no date is given to her. Many dynamics shift around the Buendía family at this moment, allowing people to pursue new and old endeavors with new enthusiasm. While José Arcadio’s transition from cockfighting to the banana company might seem like a positive move, it’s worth questioning which is doing more harm to the community overall.
Aureliano Segundo grows fat with all the revelry and spends his money carelessly. Competitive eaters show up to challenge his ability, but he triumphs over all until a woman named Camila Sagastume, known as “The Elephant” appears. Though she has the reputation of a bone crusher, she is a true lady with proper manners, who works as the director of a school of voice. She believes that a person who has their life completely in order should be able to eat all day until they are overcome by fatigue. She fears that Aureliano Segundo succeeds for the exact opposite reasons. The Elephant suggests a tie, but Aureliano Segundo goes on eating beyond his capacity and passes out.
Aureliano Segundo’s debauchery continues to follow the patterns of those named José Arcadio. Aureliano Segundo admires in his eating competition adversary the contrast of her propriety and her love of eating, an unladylike quality, combining the best of both Fernanda and Petra Cotes.
He recovers and continues to live with Petra Cotes, visiting Fernanda every day. When Meme comes home from school, Aureliano Segundo resumes living with Fernanda to give the illusion of an intact family life. Aureliano Segundo throws parties when his daughter is home and she plays the clavichord to add to the merriment. On her third visit home, she brings along four nuns and 68 classmates. Fernanda is dismayed at the way her daughter mimics her father’s barbarism. When the girls leave, the house is left in tatters. Fernanda stores the excess of chamber pots in Melquíades’ old room.
Meme takes after her father in her love of revelry, even bringing home dozens of girls from school without asking. They destroy the house, but Fernanda is only happy they are gone and realizes she prizes the time that Aureliano Segundo is away, leaving her alone while he parties away from her home. Their nontraditional marital arrangement, then, is mutually beneficial, despite its defiance of social norms.
José Arcadio Segundo begins visiting the house regularly, talking to the colonel in his workshop. Úrsula remains convinced that he and his brother swapped identities at some point, as the name Aureliano would fit him better. It is revealed that he has no home, staying sometimes with Pilar Ternera and often with the French matrons. Úrsula sees José Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo as the only two members of the family who have a true affinity for one another.
The connection between José Arcadio Segundo and Colonel Aureliano Buendía again suggests that José Arcadio Segundo has the wrong name. His rootlessness, living temporarily with all different inhabitants of the town, mirrors the way Colonel Aureliano Buendía spent most of his life moving from place to place. Though Úrsula had hoped for a family where everyone loved one another to the limit of their capabilities, she recognizes that the truest connection has been between these two twins.
The family pretends that Colonel Aureliano Buendía has died, until one day in October he goes to the street to watch a parade. That morning he had gone to the courtyard to relieve himself and failed to hear what the ghost of his father had said to him. In his workshop he had counted his fishes – a total of seventeen. Because he no longer sells them anymore, he has begun the habit of making 25 and then melting them down to remake them again. Rain begins to fall. After lunch he takes a nap and dreams that he is walking through a house with white walls, the first human being to enter. In the dream he remembers that he has had the dream many times before, but he knows he won’t remember it when he wakes up.
The family leaves Colonel Aureliano Buendía in total solitude in his workshop, totally forgetting his existence similar to the way they forgot about Rebeca in her home. He has spent the last years of his life making and remaking the same 25 gold fishes, a useless endeavor to fill time and nothing more. He dreams of a house where he revisits the same nondescript rooms over and over. The dream echoes the amnesia that characterizes the insomnia earlier in the novel, and it also evokes the image of Macondo as city of mirrors.
When Colonel Aureliano Buendía wakes up, he sends away the barber reasoning that he can be shaved on Friday when his hair is being cut. The sun comes out and he hears the approach of a band. He’s overcome by nostalgia and watches the parade pass by, thinking of the gypsies that visited when he was a child. Afterwards, he goes out to the chestnut tree to urinate, trying to remember the circus, but the memory disappears. He leans against the tree and it is not until the following day that the family finds his body.
Though the novel opens with the statement that Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s final memory is of the first time his father showed him ice, his real last moments are spent with the vision of the parade, prompting his nostalgia for the circus. His inability to remember the visit of the gypsies shows the faultlines that interrupt memory when one has lived long enough.