Colonel Aureliano Buendía loses all 32 of the armed uprisings he organizes. He fathers 17 sons with 17 different women, all of the sons killed on a single night before the oldest turns 35. He survives 14 attempts on his life, 73 ambushes, and a firing squad. He lives through a poisoning, refuses an Order of Merit offered by the president and becomes Commander of the revolutionary forces. He is never photographed. He earns money only from the little gold fishes he makes in his workshop. After signing a treaty that puts an end to 20 years of civil war, he shoots himself in the chest, but the bullet emerges on the other side of his body without harming him. He dies of natural causes, but he doesn’t know that any of this will be the case when he sets out with only 21 men to join the Liberal army.
Without the military backing of the national government, the Liberal army doesn’t stand much of a chance against the Conservative party. The timeline is condensed significantly when the entire life of Aureliano is revealed, stating (though not illustrating) the ways in which his life has been threatened. The lives of his 17 sons are also collapsed in the simultaneous explication of their births and deaths, making it seem as though all the events of their lives exist in a single moment, an echo of the way the past and future are predicted in the fortune teller’s cards, as well as José Arcadio Buendía’s belief that he was living the same day over and over.
Left in charge of Macondo, Arcadio proves a despotic ruler, imposing as many as four decrees in a day, making insensible laws governing all manner of things. He has a trumpeter at Catarino’s store shot for disrespecting him. Don Apolinar Moscote criticizes this “Liberal paradise,” and Arcadio hears of his insult. He storms Don Apolinar Moscote’s house and is about to execute him when Úrsula arrives to admonish Arcadio and tell him he’ll have to kill her, too. The soldiers back down. From that time on, Úrsula is known as the one truly ruling town. She opines the failure of their home and town to her husband, still tied to the chestnut tree, but she worries that she has saddened him and tells him lies to make him feel better, inadvertently making herself feel better, too.
The pattern of a ruler falling prey to absolute power continues when formerly mild-mannered Arcadio is seduced by his new role. Again, Úrsula serves as the voice of reason, offering up her own life to save someone else from the imprudent actions of her family members. She seeks comfort in her still-captive husband, but seeks to protect even him from the failures of the town, and is so capable of lying to him to make him feel better that she even convinces herself, suggesting the power of self-delusion that exists for many of the people of Macondo.
Amaranta and Pietro Crespi have deepened their friendship. Bruno Crespi, Pietro’s younger brother, runs the music store, while Pietro manages the music school. Pietro Crespi suggests that Aureliano José might be considered their eldest child. When Pietro Crespi finally tells Amaranta that they will marry the following month, Amaranta cruelly rejects him. Pietro Crespi is heartbroken and confused. After making every attempt to reason with her, his brother finds him in his office, having slit his wrists.
Amaranta’s rejection of Pietro Crespi shows her vindictive streak. After leading him on for a significant amount of time, she is still so committed to punishing Pietro Crespi for his earlier rejection of her that she is even willing to deny herself the affection she still desires. Pietro Crespi takes his own life, so distraught at having lost both of the women he’s loved.
Amaranta burns her hand on hot coals in remorse for the trouble she’s caused. She covers the burn in black gauze that she keeps in place until her death. One night in Catarino’s store, someone tells Arcadio that he doesn’t deserve his last name, and Arcadio responds that he is not a Buendía, though he doesn’t know the truth that his mother is Pilar Ternera. On an afternoon before the war began, he’d tries to seduce her, drawn by her smoky scent in the same way his father had been. She tells him to leave his door unlocked that night for her. Pilar pays a young virgin named Santa Sofia de la Piedad fifty pesos to go in her place and Arcadio falls in love. Later, when Arcadio is named leader, the pair of them have a daughter.
Amaranta performs her grief over Pietro Crespi’s unexpected response to her rejection of him, giving herself a physical mark of her regret. She covers the burn with a black bandage, not dissimilar to the mourning bands people once wore for a length of time after the death of a loved one, but Amaranta keeps hers on for the rest of her life, mourning both the man she loved and that she is committed to never losing her virginity. Arcadio’s being attracted to Pilar Ternera could have been avoided if the Buendías had been honest with him about his parentage, but Pilar, a woman who can see the truth both into the future and the past, knows who he is and sends a more suitable partner for him in her stead.
Only José Arcadio (I) and Rebeca know about the newborn girl. José Arcadio and Arcadio had become complicit in the act of illegally taking land that belonged to other town residents. When Arcadio had suggested this crime to José Arcadio, José Arcadio defended himself by saying that his father had distributed the land and the case could be made that he had been crazy even at the time of the land distribution. Arcadio visited only with the purpose of allowing José Arcadio to take legal ownership of the land and permission for the local government to do the fee collecting.
Because of Arcadio’s corrupt rule over Macondo, he grows distant from all those in his family except José Arcadio and Rebeca. Together they use José Arcadio’s physical strength and the political strength of Arcadio to steal land from the people of Macondo, justifying their actions with the reasoning that anyone with as much power as their father had in establishing Macondo would certainly have kept more, and so he must have been crazy even then.
Úrsula suspects Arcadio is using public funds and her suspicions are confirmed. She passes his new house and sees his six-month-old daughter and the pregnant Santa Sofia de la Piedad. A woman enters town on a donkey and goes to the barracks and introduces herself to Arcadio as Colonel Gregorio Stevenson. He tells him that the last Liberal forces were being defeated and that Arcadio should surrender the town for the safety of the inhabitants. He carries a gold fish as evidence of the source of the message. Arcadio doesn’t trust the source and plans to defend Macondo despite his insufficient troops. All of them die in the battle except Arcadio, but they kill 300 Conservative soldiers in the process.
Úrsula only learns of the birth of her granddaughter when she happens by, attempting to confirm her suspicions of her grandson. Arcadio’s commitment to defending Macondo, even against the recommendation of the Colonel, shows the extremity of his pride and his willingness to sacrifice the lives of others to protect himself and his reputation. This is level of pride and failure to follow the advice of the wiser elders is a pattern that will repeat itself again as the story continues.
Arcadio is shot at dawn. His last thoughts are filled with both his family and his enemies, who he realizes he truly loved. His last wish is for his wife to name the unnamed eight-month-old Úrsula and that if the unborn child is a boy to name it José Arcadio after his grandfather. He tells the priest he has nothing to repent. His last thought is that if the unborn baby is a girl, she should be named Remedios, and then he dies.
Characters throughout the novel realize their values and mistakes only at the moment of death, as in this instance where Arcadio realizes his priorities were misplaced only as he is about to die. Despite this revelation, he still believes he has nothing to be sorry for, showing the shallow nature of his reflections. Though he asks for his unnamed children to be given certain names, he realizes too late that he requested the wrong names, another confusion of inherited identities.