Colonel Aureliano Buendía is taken prisoner two weeks before the end of the war. Only Colonel Gerineldo Márquez accompanies him at the final moment of defeat. He returns to Macondo with his hands bound, accompanied by an officer. Large crowds gather to watch his return. Úrsula visits Colonel Aureliano Buendía in jail. He knows all that has gone on in Macondo because of his psychic abilities, even saying that he believes he’s been sentenced to death in this way before, too. He gives his poems to his mother and makes her promise to burn them. She gives him the revolver she has smuggled in.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s ability to see the future has kept him apprised of all of the happenings in Macondo in his absence. His belief that he has already been sentenced to death harkens back to the way the timeline of the novel’s events is mixed up and the way in which characters suffer the same fates in different generations: Colonel Aureliano Buendía will be saved from execution but another character later on will not be so lucky.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía thinks back to the time of the war, remembering how the enemy had tried to trap him, but he used his premonitions to protect him. On another occasion his close friend Colonel Magnífico Visbal had been stabbed to death a few yards from him and he had no idea. When he was sentenced to death, he had a premonition that made him ask that the sentence be carried out in Macondo. In Macondo, the soldiers delay the execution, fearful of the crowd’s rebellion.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía recognizes the limits of his powers, acknowledging that, while he was able to use them to protect himself, they did not work to protect one of his closest friends from death. His request that his death sentence be carried out in Macondo ends up being the request that saves his life, despite his not knowing exactly how it will help him.
The authorities spend the night at Catarino’s store, but no one will sleep with the Captain because they are sure he will die soon. Word arrives that Colonel Aureliano Buendía must be killed in the next 24 hours. The guards lead him through the streets and stand him against the wall to the cemetery. Colonel Aureliano Buendía has a vision of his father leading him to ice. He hears a shout that breaks his memory and sees José Arcadio (I) crossing the street with his shotgun. He orders them not to shoot and another war begins. The soldiers leave with Colonel Aureliano Buendía to free the revolutionary leader in Riohacha.
Once again, readers are led back to the vision of Colonel Aureliano Buendía remembering, at what he assumes to be the moment of his death, his father showing him ice for the first time, the first image in the book. José Arcadio, mostly forgotten by the rest of the Buendía family appears to defend his brother. Though the capture and execution of Colonel Aureliano Buendía was the final resolution in the loss of the Liberals to the Conservatives, the war begins again.
They make their way, convincing Liberals in small towns to accompany them by showing them the small gold fish. When they approach Riohacha, they determine that the revolutionary leader has been shot and the troops declare Colonel Aureliano Buendía their leader. By the time he has gathered an army of 2000 well-armed Indians, the Liberal party has rejected him as their leader and the national government deems him a bandit. He returns to Macondo to establish his headquarters there and is greeted by Colonel Gerineldo Márquez. Úrsula has taken in Santa Sofia de la Piedad and her daughter and twin sons, born several months before. The girl’s name is Remedios, and the boys are named José Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo.
The gold fish are a symbol of Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s authority and legitimacy. After the liberals disown him and he becomes a rebel, Colonel Aureliano Buendía is free to move their headquarters to a more convenient location for him. Because Arcadio had been killed, Úrsula has assumed responsibility for Santa Sofia de la Piedad and her children, all baptized with names echoing members of the Buendía family before them.
A year after Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s flight, José Arcadio (I) and Rebeca had gone to live in the home that Arcadio had built for his family. One day, returning home from working the land, José Arcadio is shot in his bedroom. Rebeca says she was in the bathroom and heard nothing. A trickle of blood leaks under the door and runs all the way across town to Úrsula in the Buendía house. Úrsula follows the trail all the way to the dead José Arcadio, though no wound can be found on his body. His body holds the scent of gunpowder, remaining even after he is buried. Rebeca barricades herself inside the house and the town forgets about her.
There is something suspicious about Rebeca not having heard the shot that killed José Arcadio, but no one is able to solve the mystery of his death. The greatest likelihood is that a representative of the Conservative party has assassinated him because he prevented the execution of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, but there is speculation that he might have taken his own life. The magic of the blood making its way to Úrsula across town before being discovered by Rebeca casts further suspicion on Rebeca and shows the intractable bond between mother and son, even when estranged. His body holding the scent of gunpowder is similar to the way Pilar Ternera smells of smoke.
The town of Macondo is under the impression that Colonel Aureliano Buendía holds power because of his 5,000 troops, but the colonel knows different. He believes the war is at a stalemate. Colonel Aureliano Buendía asks Pilar Ternera to read him his future. She warns him to “watch out for his mouth” though she can’t explain further. Two days later he drinks poisoned coffee, but Úrsula nurses him back to health. Úrsula tells him she did not burn his poetry as he requested. He starts writing again.
Throughout the book, there are the characters who possess official titles and then there are the characters who actually hold power over the majority. Colonel Aureliano Buendía knows his weakness, even if it is not recognized by the rest of the people. Úrsula is the character with the strength to protect her son from the attempts on his life, using her healing skills to save his life and her common sense to save his poetry against his wishes.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía asks his friend Colonel Gerineldo Márquez why he is fighting. His friend responds that he is fighting for the Liberal party, but Colonel Aureliano Buendía says that he has just realized that he is fighting only for pride. Colonel Aureliano Buendía says that knowing this is better than not knowing why one is fighting or fighting for an empty cause like Colonel Gerineldo Márquez is. He names Colonel Gerineldo Márquez the civil and military leader of Macondo, and goes to meet the rebel groups in the interior. Colonel Gerineldo Márquez establishes an “atmosphere of rural peace.”
Colonel Aureliano Buendía becomes aware of his own pride and how it drives him to continue fighting. His commitment to the Liberal party is just a cover for his true interests. He insults his friend, thinking him either stupid or dishonest to still believe that he fights to defend Liberal values, though he himself has just awoken to this realization. Despite his feelings, he appoints his friend the leader of Macondo, and his friend is able to return Macondo to a basic level of peace.
Colonel Gerineldo Márquez fell in love with Amaranta before his return. Úrsula advises Amaranta to marry him, but Amaranta refuses, saying he will be shot sooner or later. Indeed, the government threatens to shoot him if the rebel forces don’t surrender Riohacha. Amaranta turns down his proposal and accuses him of loving Colonel Aureliano Buendía so much that it has caused him to want to marry her. He says he will continue insisting.
Amaranta’s second love interest pursues her, but Amaranta pretends to her mother that logic prevents her from growing affections for Colonel Gerineldo Márquez. Her excuse is different when she interacts directly with the Colonel, though, having grown mistrustful of the way men can transfer their love from one person to another, similar to the way Pietro Crespi moved from Rebeca to Amaranta.
A letter arrives from Colonel Aureliano Buendía advising Úrsula to take good care of José Arcadio Buendía because he is going to die, and Úrsula believes it is a premonition. It takes seven men to move him inside to a bed, but the next morning he has returned himself to the chestnut tree. José Arcadio Buendía communicates with and is cared for mostly by the ghost of the man her killed, Prudencio Aguilar. He spends much of his day dreaming of infinite rooms that he returns to again and again. José Arcadio Buendía is found dead in bed soon after. Yellow flowers rain from the sky.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s foresight works from a distance, too. Though the Buendías attempt to provide an increased level of care to their patriarch on his death bed, José Arcadio Buendía is so set in his ways that he prefers to remain where he is comfortable, out by the tree, an action that seems to prove to the family that he is out of his mind. His relationship with the ghost of the man he wronged has been healed over time, as José Arcadio Buendía grows closer to joining the spirit realm. His vision of the infinite rooms, repeatedly revisited, echoes his belief that he lives the same day over and over, the way that generations repeat themselves in Macondo, and the image of Macondo as a city of mirrors. The yellow flowers that fall from the sky are a sign of the death of the man who created this place.