Colonel Gerineldo Márquez can see how empty the war is through his telegraphic conversations with Colonel Aureliano Buendía. As time passes, he can no longer identify the content from Colonel Aureliano Buendía, and he begins to think of him as a stranger. He spends time watching Amaranta sew, in silence. He brings her a prayer book as a gift and she notes the irony. She does not love him, but she knows she cannot live without him.
The breakdown of telegraphic communications indicates that Colonel Aureliano Buendía is now speaking a different language than his friend, one no longer grounded in the common base of knowledge they shared. A prayer book is an ironic gift because the soldiers have been fighting against the power of the church.
When Amaranta turns down Colonel Gerineldo Márquez for good, he has a call with Colonel Aureliano Buendía and tells him it’s raining in Macondo. Colonel Aureliano Buendía returns home, disinterested in the war. He naps and consorts with his mistresses, and little else. Colonel Aureliano Buendía calls together an assembly of the rebel commanders and is surprised by the variety of individuals that make up the group. General Téofilo Vargas stands out from the others. He is an Indian with brutal intentions, and the others recognize him as a threat that must be killed. Colonel Aureliano Buendía won’t order such a command, but two weeks later, the Indian is ambushed by a group of men with machetes. Colonel Aureliano Buendía assumes power. He orders the death of the man who suggested killing General Téofilo Vargas and feels an immense solitude in his position of power.
Despite the pleasure she finds in the companionship of Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, Amaranta denies herself his company, breaking his heart, too. The rain marks a turning point here, as it will again later, triggering the return of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, just as it later triggers the return of Úrsula to health. Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s values seem confused in his refusal to execute a tyrant, closely followed by his insistence on killing the man who killed the tyrant. The effect of this action is Colonel Aureliano Buendía feeling the immense solitude that comes along with his power, specifically his abuse of that power.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía bristles at the way war has become normalized. A commission from the Liberal party arrives to discuss the stalemate, and they request three concessions: the renunciation of property titles, the renunciation of the fight against the clerics and the renunciation of equal rights for illegitimate children. Colonel Aureliano Buendía determines, then, that they would only be fighting for meaningless power. Despite the protests of his political adviser, Colonel Aureliano Buendía signs. Colonel Gerineldo Márquez calls the act a betrayal and Colonel Aureliano Buendía tells him to surrender his weapons and put himself in the disposition of the revolutionary court.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s will has been broken down, and he agrees to the concessions requested by the Liberal party because he no longer cares to fight. When his friend, who is still committed to their cause, criticizes him for signing the agreement rather than passing on his power to another leader, Colonel Aureliano’s refusal to hear his longtime friend out proves his extreme lack of reason. The concessions being requested show how the fight has come full circle with the Liberal party now fighting for exactly what they used to fight against.
Colonel Gerineldo Márquez is sentenced to death for high treason. Úrsula tells her son that if he allows Márquez to be shot, she will kill her son with her bare hands. Colonel Aureliano Buendía goes to his friend’s cell and releases him so that they can find a more satisfactory agreement to end the war. It takes over two years, but as an armistice approaches, Colonel Aureliano Buendía returns home. Úrsula does not believe they will have him home for long, assuming that if the war doesn’t take him, death will.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía backs down from his decision only at the behest of his mother, turning the task of finding a more suitable compromise over to his more reasonable friend. Ending the war is a lot harder than Colonel Gerineldo Márquez believed it would be, and Úrsula believes finally having him home is too good to be true.
José Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo operate as mirrors of each other. Remedios the Beauty wanders the house naked. Colonel Aureliano Buendía looks at his mother, and all that she has gone through in her life, but feels no pity for her, having been completely desensitized by the war. He thinks of his wife, but the memory is hazy enough that he might remember her as his daughter instead of his wife. He strips the house of his personal belongings, but Úrsula stops him when he tries to take down the photo of Remedios. He burns his poetry in the oven of the bakery.
As children, José Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo are impossible to tell apart. Remedios the Beauty is a dreamy figure who prefers to walk around naked, oblivious to the effect she has on men. The confusion of mistaken identities continues with Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s inability to recognize the memory of Remedios Moscote as his wife rather than his sister or daughter (though he doesn’t have a daughter).
Pilar Ternera visits Colonel Aureliano Buendía and he is surprised at how old she is. On the fated morning, he joins the troops to finally surrender, Úrsula bars the door behind him, intent on hiding away for the rest of her life, and searches the house for memories of her son to no success. Colonel Aureliano Buendía signs the surrender without ceremony. He goes to his tent and shoots himself in the chest. At the same moment, Úrsula takes the cover off a pot of milk to check to see if it is boiling, and sees it is full of worms, sure this is a sign they have killed her son. She goes out to the courtyard to tell her husband and is still crying there when Colonel Aureliano Buendía is brought home, wrapped in a blanket and alive.
Colonel Aureliano Buendia’s days have felt much the same because they have all been spent in battle, which echoes his father’s belief that every day he lived was the same Monday as the day before. One of the only ways he can register the passing of time is by looking at the way the people in his life are aging. When the troops finally surrender, he no longer sees a purpose in living and attempts to take his own life, but a doctor has given him instructions that ensure he lives. Úrsula believes her prediction had been correct when she sees an arbitrary sign, but happily she is wrong.
The bullet passed cleanly through Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s chest without harming any organs. He immediately threatens war again trying to get pensions for the veterans, but the government only adds more guards to prevent him from leaving his house. Úrsula puts the guards to work helping around the house, and one, driven crazy by Remedios the Beauty’s lack of interest, kills himself in her honor.
Though Colonel Aureliano Buendía has just surrendered in the war, his new lease on life almost prompts him to return to the business of waging battles again immediately. The government tries to protect him from himself by restraining him at home. Úrsula, resourceful as ever, gives them more useful work to do.