Aureliano doesn’t leave Melquíades’s laboratory for a long time. Santa Sofia de la Piedad sees to his care and feeding. Melquíades appears to Aureliano and asks if he has discovered the language of the parchments. Aureliano has determined they are written in Sanskrit. Melquíades tells Aureliano that he can no go in peace to ultimate death because he knows that Aureliano has the time to learn Sanskrit before the parchments turn one hundred years old, at which point they can be deciphered. He directs him to the bookstore of a wise Catalonian where he can find a Sanskrit primer.
Santa Sofia de la Piedad’s saintly name has proven perfectly apt over the course of the novel in that she is clearly the one doing much of the silent, unacknowledged work of keeping the family running, especially tending to the characters who remain locked up in the house or in their bodies. Melquíades remains undead. The language of the manuscripts, once thought to be an elaborate code, is revealed to be Sanskrit, similar to the way José Arcadio Buendía was actually speaking Latin when the family thought it was gibberish.
Petra Cotes sends food for the Buendías each week, even depriving herself of food so that Fernanda might eat. She continues this until she sees Fernanda’s funeral procession pass. Santa Sofia de la Piedad should get some much needed rest now that the house is mostly empty. Over the years she has worked without complaint, seen more as a servant than as the matriarch she was. After Úrsula’s death the house falls into a state of senility, overtaken first by moss and then by red ants. Frustrated at the lack of help she receives in trying to battle these natural forces, she packs a bag and leaves, saying, “I give up.” Aureliano gives her fourteen gold fishes to support herself. She is never heard from again.
Petra Cotes’ act of revenge on Fernanda takes the form of extreme kindness and self-deprivation, an act that echoes Amaranta’s refusal to accept the affections of any of her suitors, though Petra Cotes is much more selfless. The loss of Úrsula’s housekeeping skills causes the house to begin breaking down and transitioning back into a natural environment, overrun with insects and greenery. Santa Sofia de la Piedad finally walks away from the family, though the Buendías hardly notice, a more active form of the forgetting they’ve feared throughout.
Fernanda and Aureliano continue living in the house, completely separate from one another. Fernanda perceives the presence of elves because it seems as though items are moving on their own. The children write to say their studies are taking longer than expected because they are doing so well. Aureliano has worked for three years translating the Sanskrit of Melquíades’ prophecy. Fernanda continues to dress up in the moth-eaten Queen of Madagascar dress from time to time. Her greatest vice is her need to feel sad. Aureliano leaves her food by the fire each day, but one day it is untouched and when he goes to check on her, he finds her dead in her bed, her skin as smooth as an ivory casing.
The last two inhabitants of the Buendía house don’t interact, instead living alone in the same place. While it’s possible that items are moving on their own, readers also know that Fernanda has lost things before when she breaks her routine, and without Úrsula to help her find them, it could be that she is just growing forgetful. Perhaps she has even forgotten that there is someone else in the house who could be moving things. The image of the moth-eaten dress harkens back to Rebeca’s wedding dress, destroyed by moths because of Amaranta’s treachery. These dresses were never worn for their intended purpose.
Four months later, when José Arcadio (II) finally returns, Fernanda remains intact because Aureliano has boiled mercury to preserve her body. José Arcadio kisses the corpse and takes a key out of her pocket. He unlocks a box and reads a long letter Fernanda had written and learns that Aureliano is Meme’s son. José Arcadio calls Aureliano a bastard and tells him to go to his room, which he does, not even emerging for Fernanda’s funeral. When Fernanda died, he had gone to gather the books he needed from the Catalonian’s store, offering a golden fish for payment, but the Catalonian allowed him to have the books for free.
Aureliano uses the same process of boiling mercury to preserve the body as José Arcadio Buendía used to preserve Melquíades when he died. Though José Arcadio has learned about the true parentage of Aureliano, he doesn’t explain this to Aureliano, who remains unaware that Meme was his mother. He takes no issue when José Arcadio sends him to his room because he has all he needs to be happy in his solitude: his books.
José Arcadio (II) restores much of the house, worrying only over the saints on the family altar, which he burns down one afternoon. While he was away, he was not at seminary, but living with friends. At night, he sees the ghosts of his family wandering the house. A year after his return home, having sold the silver candlesticks and golden chamber pot for food, his only joy is to welcome the children of the neighborhood to the house to play. One afternoon, while Aureliano is in the kitchen, the children are about to shred the manuscripts in his workshop, when an angelic force suspends them in the air, separating them from the documents until Aureliano returns. Some of the children arrive earlier than others each day to groom and pamper José Arcadio.
José Arcadio burning the saints on the family altar is the first clue that he has not spent his time away growing his faith as he claimed to. In the same way his great-great-grandfather before him saw the ghost of his former rival Prudencio Aguilar, José Arcadio also sees the ghosts of his family wandering the house. While he is not technically alone in the house, the ghostliness of these beings highlights how truly alone he feels, having lost all of these generations of family. José Arcadio’s interest in spending time with younger people shows his lack of maturity and his attempts to hold on to the frivolity of his youth, denied to him because he was sent away to seminary school so early.
One night, José Arcadio (II) discovers the sacks of gold that Úrsula had hidden under his bed, and he uses them to turn the house into a “decadent paradise.” One night he and the four eldest children have a wild party, filling the pool with champagne. The children tear down the curtains to dry themselves off and break the rock crystal mirror. He chases the children out of the house and suffers and asthma attack, begging Aureliano to go to the pharmacy to get him his medicine. Aureliano leaves the house for the second time. Aureliano is indifferent to the outside world, and so José Arcadio ends his imprisonment. José Arcadio realizes that Aureliano can speak knowledgeably about things he can’t possible know and his response to José Arcadio’s inquiries as to how that might be is just to say: “Everything is known.”
Úrsula’s prediction that there would be gold in the house as long as she was alive proves true, as the gold is finally found after her death, and it’s almost immediately taken from the house and spent by José Arcadio. The destruction of the house by the children echoes the way that Meme had brought home her schoolmates who destroyed the house entirely, and also, in a more minor way, the José Arcadios who attacked the house in a rage. Aureliano, though he has studied many books, knows things that they don’t contain, showing the foresight of the Aurelianos before him, while also resonating with the way characters have made up what they didn’t know about the world throughout.
One morning, a man with a cross of ashes on his forehead arrives in tatters, kept alive only by fear. It is Aureliano Amador, the only surviving son of Colonel Aureliano Buendía. José Arcadio (II) and Aureliano do not understand who he is though and refuse him entry. Two policemen appear out of nowhere and shoot Aureliano Amador’s cross of ashes.
History has been forgotten by the remaining Buendías enough that they are unwilling to provide asylum to their miraculously still living ancestor. The permanent cross of ashes remains all these years later, and the vindictive commitment to killing Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s sons somehow still stands, despite most people not even remembering the colonel.
One September morning, the children with whom José Arcadio (II) had been spending time with invade the house and drown him in the pool, stealing the rest of the gold. Aureliano finds him later that afternoon, and finally realizes how much he had grown to love his brother.
As is the firmly established pattern at this point in the book, Aureliano realizes how much he loved the man he sees as a brother only once he is dead.