Macondo is in a state of upheaval when Meme’s illegitimate son is brought home, and so Fernanda is able to keep the child a secret from everyone. She locks the child in Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s old workshop and tells Santa Sofia de la Piedad and Amaranta Úrsula that she found the child floating in a basket. Even Úrsula never learns the boy’s true origin. Aureliano Segundo is ignorant of his grandson for three years, until he escapes his room and appears on the porch, naked and displaying a sex organ to rival the original José Arcadio (I)’s.
Readers learn of Meme’s illegitimate son even before learning that Meme has been sent away, another manipulation of the timeline of events, allowing the future to exist at once with the present, proving that the fate of the characters has already been determined. Fernanda’s commitment to keeping this child a secret takes the way characters are kept form their true heritage one step further—she keeps the child secret from even the other family members.
After Mauricio Babilonia is shot, Meme never speaks again. Fernanda takes Meme to a convent in the somber town where she had been raised. Meme thinks about Mauricio Babilonia for the rest of her life, eventually dying of old age in a “gloomy hospital in Cracow.” Fernanda returns to Macondo in an armed train to learn that José Arcadio Segundo is leading the workers of the banana plantation in a strike. The plantation workers demand not to work on Sundays, a concession they’re awarded. An attempt is made on José Arcadio Segundo’s life, but he survives and goes into hiding.
Unable to control her daughter, Fernanda removes Meme from all temptation, also unknowingly removing Meme from the threats posed by the striking banana plantation workers. Just as characters before have died pining after the ones they love, Meme succumbs to this fate, as well, kept from her lover Mauricio Babilonia because of arbitrary propriety, when, if given the choice, she may well have chosen to marry the father of her child instead.
Fernanda writes to her son José Arcadio (II) to tell him the lie that his sister has died. Fernanda postpones the telepathic operation to treat her tumor, but a nun appears with a basket containing Meme’s son, baptized with the name Aureliano. Fernanda plans to drown the child in a cistern, but, in the end, she can’t summon the will to do so. A year passes when the tensions of the plantation reach a peak. José Arcadio Segundo reappears to organize demonstrations. The leaders are arrested and jailed for three months, eventually released because the government and plantation cannot decide who should be responsible for feeding the prisoners.
Fernanda feels morally okay about lying to her son that his sister has died and about disowning her nearly grown daughter, but she can’t bear to kill her illegitimate grandson, even as she’s allowing his existence to wreak havoc upon her family’s life. This shows the strange balance of her own morality with the rules of her faith. The release of the prisoners again reiterates the struggle between official governance and more community-based organization effort.
The workers protest against the unsanitary conditions of their living quarters, lack of medical services, poor working conditions and payment only in company stock, forcing them to buy the company provisions that were imported to ensure the profitability of the exported fruit. Legal acrobatics are used to avoid all culpability, including fake identities and faked death for the highest officials of the company. The lawyers claim that the banana company hired only temporary workers, absolving them of the need to properly accommodate the workers’ needs. The strike breaks out in earnest. The fruit rots on the trees and the workers flood the town.
The workers, having won Sundays off, try to make more requests of the company, all of which seem quite reasonable. The American company is better versed in manipulating workers and absolving themselves of guilt, which echoes manipulative American companies that exploit Latin America. The actions of the strike mirror the actions of the Liberal rebellion years as workers fight for what they believe in. In this way, too, José Arcadio Segundo’s status as leader of the strike mirrors Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s, suggesting he might have the wrong name.
Soldiers are ordered to restore order in the town. They cut the bananas and load them onto the train. The workers take up their machetes to cut down trees, destroy train tracks, and cut down the lines of communication. The authorities gather the workers in a square to address the conflict. José Arcadio Segundo notices machine guns set up around the crowd. A lieutenant reads Decree No. 4 through a phonograph horn in which the army is authorized to shoot and kill all of the workers. A captain tells the crowd they have five minutes to withdraw. The crowd doesn’t move and the officers tell the crowd they have one more minute. José Arcadio Segundo shouts an insult at them and the machine guns fire. He saves a single child by moving him to a side street before passing out.
When the soldiers try to break the strike by doing the workers’ work, the workers prevent the soldiers from interceding by cutting off communication with civilization, reverting Macondo to its earlier state of isolation. The violence that breaks out at the reading of the decree parallels the Liberal rebellion at the Carnival. José Arcadio Segundo is responsible for the premature firing on the crowd, but he is only able to save a single child, similar to the way that Colonel Aureliano Buendía was once the only survivor of a military attack.
When José Arcadio Segundo comes to, he is on a train lying in a heap of dead people. He paces the dark cargo car looking at all of the dead, which he realizes the soldiers intend to pitch into the sea “like rejected bananas.” Rains begin to fall and José Arcadio Segundo jumps off the train and runs in the opposite direction. He finally happens around a house on the outskirts of town, and the woman who lives there lets him in, bandaging his wounds and giving him coffee. He tells her that the 3000 people who were killed were on the train, but she denies that anyone has died. He proceeds to three more houses and they all say the same thing. In the square he can find no trace of the massacre.
The people involved in the strike are treated like little more than rotten fruit. José Arcadio Segundo escapes, the only one alive, as the evidence of the massacre is removed out of sight of the people of Macondo. The lack of evidence prompts the people of Macondo to disbelieve José Arcadio Segundo’s story, suggesting the way that history can be painted by the victors, rather than providing the grisly truth of what happened. José Arcadio represents the minority that is often silenced in their version of events.
He returns home and Santa Sofia de la Piedad hides him from Fernanda in the chamber pot room. Aureliano Segundo is also in the Buendía house, having been trapped there by the rain. He visits his brother in Melquíades’s old room, but also distrusts José Arcadio Segundo’s version of events. A proclamation had claimed that the workers returned home peacefully after learning they’d been awarded better medical services and latrines for the living quarters, but Mr. Brown says the agreement will not be officially signed until the rain stops.
Santa Sofia de la Piedad hides her son because Fernanda wouldn’t want such a dangerous man living with their family. Unexpectedly, both twin brothers are trapped in their childhood home together. Even Aureliano Segundo, who was once so closely connected to his brother, distrusts José Arcadio Segundo’s horrible story because official news said otherwise. The arbitrary promise to sign an agreement when the rain stops echoes Amaranta’s death coinciding with finishing her burial shroud.
The rain continues and everyone accepts that no massacre took place except José Arcadio Segundo. The search for the rebel leaders of the strike continues, but the soldiers continue to deny that anyone has been executed. In the end José Arcadio Segundo is the only one who has survived.
José Arcadio Segundo’s version of events is kept secret because everyone is trapped in their houses by the rain. The fact that no other rebel leaders of the strike have been found seems to prove that José Arcadio Segundo’s version is the truth, though.
Soldiers arrive to the Buendía house to search for him, but when they open the padlock on Melquíades’s old room, it is so perfectly in its ancient order that they fail to thoroughly search it. An officer asks if he can take a golden fish from Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s workshop as a relic. They ask to search Melquíades’s room again and turn on the light when they see the quantity of chamber pots. The officer, despite looking right at José Arcadio Segundo, fails to see him. The soldier closes the door and claims that no one has been in the room in a hundred years.
When the soldiers arrive at the Buendía house, they look directly at José Arcadio Segundo without seeing him. This could be an indication that the other soldiers are equally as invisible (rather than dead), that José Arcadio Segundo is protected by some magical power in Melquíades’ room, or that the soldiers know he is the one survivor and feel they have already killed enough people for this cause.
José Arcadio Segundo remains in hiding in the workshop, asking for the door to remain padlocked, and only Santa Sofia de la Piedad remembers that he remains inside. He peruses the inscrutable manuscripts of Melquíades. Six months later, as the rain continues, Aureliano Segundo unlocks the door, looking for someone to talk to. The smell of the chamber pots overwhelms him and he sees his brother, still studying the manuscripts and repeating that all 3000 of those gathered at the station had been killed.
José Arcadio Segundo asks to be locked into his solitude, like José Arcadio Buendía tied to his tree, and Santa Sofia de la Piedad cares for him just as she cared for his great-grandfather. He takes the same Aureliano-specific interest in Melquíades’ manuscripts. He commits to keeping the memory of the 3000 dead alive in the same way that Colonel Aureliano Buendía remained fixated on the war.