The nursery has been stripped of curtains and decorations, and all of the furniture has been stacked in one corner. A feeling of emptiness pervades the bare room. At the back of the room, by the door to the hall, are several suitcases and bundles. Lopakhin stands alone in the room, waiting; Anya and Barbara’s voices can be heard in the hall as they bid the neighboring peasants goodbye. Yasha, holding a tray of champagne glasses, enters, remarking that the “common people” are “good fellows but rather stupid.”
The nursery, in the first act, was a warm meeting-room that served as the place where many characters reconnected with one another after years apart. Now, it is bare and empty, virtually soulless—it is the place, perhaps, where several characters will see each other for the last time.
Ranevsky and Gayef come in from the hall. Ranevsky is not crying, but she is pale and twitchy. Gayef reprimands Ranevsky for giving the rest of her money away to the peasants—she insists she couldn’t help it, and then hurries from the room. Gayef follows her. Lopakhin calls after them, asking them to come back in and have a drink to say goodbye. They do not answer, and he tells Yasha to drink the lot himself—there are just twenty minutes before Yasha must accompany Ranevsky to the station.
Ranevsky’s foolish spending habits are still in effect—she could not help, one last time, giving all she had away. Lopakhin seems to want to make amends—or simply toast his own good fortune—but he is alone in his good cheer, and everyone else is too busy packing to pay him much mind at the moment.
Trophimof enters, looking for his galoshes. He can’t find them anywhere. Lopakhin tells Trophimof that he himself is going to Karkof today to spend the winter there working—he has spent the summer here, and has been idle for much of it. He asks if Trophimof is returning to Moscow for yet another year of university, and Trophimof replies that he is. Lopakhin offers Trophimof money for the journey, but Trophimof rebuffs him.
Lopakhin tries to engage Trophimof in conversation—he wants at least one person to pay him attention. He even tries to give Trophimof money, implying that now that Lopakhin is a wealthy man, he knows people will only like him for his money.
Lopakhin keeps trying to offer Trophimof money, encouraging him not to be stuck up. Trophimof says that even if Lopakhin offered him 20,000 pounds he would not take it; he is a free man, and money has no power over him. All he is concerned with is marching forward and seeking happiness. He vows to get there himself—or at least show others the way. Outside, the sound of axes chopping down cherry trees can be clearly heard.
Trophimof claims to be above money as well as love—he has seen what pain money has brought into Lopakhin, Ranevsky, and her family’s lives and wants no part of it. As he considers what his own role will be in the new world stretching out before him, the sounds of the old one vanishing come through the windows.
Lopakhin says it’s time to start off for the station, and bids Trophimof goodbye. He asks him if he’s heard that Gayef got a job at the bank; before Trophimof can answer, Anya appears in the doorway, and relays that Madame Ranevsky has asked if they can wait till she’s gone to start chopping down the cherry orchard. Trophimof chides Lopakhin for having no tact and goes out into the hall. Lopakhin, embarrassed by his foolish workers, leaves the room, too, to pause the work in the orchard.
Lopakhin has tactlessly—and selfishly—tried to start having the cherry orchard chopped down before Ranevsky and her family’s very eyes. When he realizes what he has done, he seems to be embarrassed—although he could be feigning embarrassment in order to seem less selfish than he truly is.
Anya asks Yasha if Firs has gone to the hospital yet; Yasha replies that he told the staff this morning that Firs needed a doctor, and they are sure to have sent him by now. Anya asks Ephikhodof, who is walking through the room, to confirm whether Firs has been sent to the hospital. Ephikhodof replies that there’s no point in sending Firs for medical care; he’s old, and “it’s time he was dispatched to his forefathers.” He leaves the room, and so does Anya.
Everyone is concerned about Firs except for Ephikhodof, who says what no one else will say (but which many others are no doubt thinking): Firs is old, ill, and unprepared for the new journeys everyone else is embarking on.
Barbara calls for Yasha—his mother has come to bid him goodbye. Yasha impatiently remarks that his mother is annoying him. Dunyasha, who has been busying herself with preparing the luggage, approaches Yasha before he leaves the room. She begs him to look at her just once before he leaves her, and then, crying, throws her arms around him. Yasha continues drinking champagne and begs her to stop crying—someone is coming.
Yasha is selfish and cruel as ever, regarding his mother’s and Dunyasha’s attempts to bid him farewell as nuisances—the final barriers between him and getting out of Russia forever on Ranevsky’s dime.
Ranevsky, Gayef, Anya, and Charlotte enter the room. It is nearly time for them to go to the station, and Ranevsky walks around the room bidding the house goodbye. She goes to Anya, and asks if Anya is all right—she replies that she is in fact happy, as the two of them will soon build a new life. Gayef remarks that now that the anxiety over whether the orchard will be sold or not has been settled, they can all relax and pursue new lives—he is looking forward to his job at the bank, and remarks that even Ranevsky is looking more relaxed. Ranevsky admits she is looking forward to returning to Paris and living off the money sent from Yaroslav—though she worries it will not last very long.
As the play nears its end, everyone seems to be more or less okay, despite the great tragedy that has befallen Ranevsky and her family. They have all decided to make the best of things—and though Gayef will have to work for perhaps the first time in his life and Ranevsky will have to try to learn how to live on a budget, they are still faring very well and avoiding poverty and misery.
Anya, who is going to a nearby university to study, promises to work very hard and pass her examinations so that she can get a place for herself and her mother to live. She kisses her mother’s hands and, aloud, promises that they will have long, peaceful autumn evenings together someday soon. Ranevsky assures Anya that she will come back from Paris so Anya’s dream can come true.
Anya, dreamy as ever, seems to both want to reassure her mother—and be reassured herself—that things will work out all right for them, and that they will be able to return, at least emotionally, to the way things once were between them.
Lopakhin and Pishtchik enter; Gayef predicts that Pishtchik has come to borrow money, and excuses himself from the room. Instead, Pishtchik pays Lopakhin back some money he owes him—he explains that he is flush with cash, as some Englishmen found valuable white clay on his land. He hands Ranevsky some money, too, and marvels at his own miraculous fortunes. He bids Ranevsky goodbye tearfully, wishing her well and lamenting that “everything in this world has come to an end.”
Though a miracle did not save Ranevsky and her family in the end, one has certainly saved Pishtchik—the indiscriminate nature with which the universe rewards some and punishes other is displayed cruelly and ironically in this passage as Pishtchik throws money at his friends while Ranevsky is still working through the immense loss of property and status.
Ranevsky says that although she’s ready to leave, she still has two things on her mind. She’s still worried about Firs—Anya reassures her that Firs has indeed been sent to the hospital. Ranevsky’s second worry is Barbara, who is used to doing household work—now that she has nothing to do, she is like a “fish out of water,” and is in a terrible depression. Anya and Charlotte leave the room. Ranevsky turns to Lopakhin and asks him why he won’t propose to Barbara. He admits that he doesn’t understand why he hasn’t either, and vows to do it this instant.
Ranevsky, seized by a sudden desire for a last grab at turning things around for at least one member of her family, corners Lopakhin into asking Barbara to marry him. Perhaps Ranevsky thinks that with all Lopakhin has taken from their family, he can at least repay them in this one small way.
Ranevsky calls Barbara into the room and then exits. After a moment, Barbara enters—she is looking for something she cannot find. Lopakhin asks what she’s looking for, but she won’t tell him. He asks her where she’s off to, and she tells him she’s going to keep house for another wealthy family about fifty miles away. Barbara goes over to the luggage and starts rummaging through it. Lopakhin tells her that he, too, is off to another village; he is leaving Ephikhodof to look after the estate. The two discuss the weather for a moment, and then there is an awkward pause.
It is clear almost from the moment that Barbara enters the room that Lopakhin is not going to propose. It is painful to watch as Barbara, one last time, puts herself at Lopakhin’s mercy—with just a few words, he could rescue her from her fate, but he is either too selfish or too self-loathing to advance his relationship with Barbara any further.
A voice calls for Lopakhin, and he quickly hurries out of the room. Barbara sits on the floor and sobs. Madame Ranevsky comes back in. Seeing Barbara on the floor, she tells her it’s time to leave. Barbara wipes her eyes, and says she can’t miss the train; otherwise, she won’t make it to her new work appointment on time. Ranevsky calls for Anya to get ready; Anya, Gayef, and Charlotte enter along with Ephikhodof, who starts taking the luggage out.
Lopakhin does not want to marry Barbara after all, and leaps at the chance to get away from her after seemingly having been pressured into proposing by Madame Ranevsky. Ranevsky seems to know that it is useless to pursue Barbara’s future any further, and instead rather coolly tells her eldest daughter that it’s time to move on and accept her fate.
Ranevsky sunnily states that it’s time for them all to start out on their new journeys. Anya, too, is excited. Trophimof comes in, followed by Lopakhin. They begin taking things out of the house. Ranevsky asks for just one more moment to look at the walls and the ceilings. Lopakhin asks Ephikhodof to take one last look around the house. Barbara pulls an umbrella from a bundle of rugs and pretends to strike Lopakhin; he pretends to be frightened, going along with her game. Trophimof calls everyone out of the house. Anya sunnily bids the house and her “old life” goodbye, and goes out with Trophimof. Lopakhin begins locking up. Everyone heads out except for Ranevsky and Gayef.
Ranevsky is feigning positivity as she confronts the fact that her final moments in the house are upon her. She is not the only one faking her emotions—Barbara, too, feigns levity with Lopakhin, who has just doomed her, essentially, to a life as a housemaid for another wealthy family. Anya, however, seems genuinely excited to be rid of her “old life” and start anew—as one of the youngest characters in the play, she is perhaps the most well-equipped to bounce back and adapt to the new order of things.
Ranevsky and Gayef embrace one another and sob quietly, lamenting the loss of their youth and happiness. Outside, Anya and Trophimof call for them excitedly. The siblings take one last look at the room, and then leave together. The stage is empty, and the sound of doors locking and carriages driving away can be heard outside. There is silence for a moment, and then the thudding of axes in the cherry orchard begins again, louder than before.
Firs appears in the doorway; he is looking very ill. Everyone has left him behind. He goes to the door and tries the handle, but it is locked. He remarks that he has been forgotten. He sits down on the sofa, sure that Gayef will soon return to switch out his coat for a warmer one. He mumbles to himself, stating that “life has gone by as if [he’d] never lived.” He lies down on the sofa; he has no strength left. He lies motionless. The melancholy sound of a string breaking is heard again. As it fades away, the stroke of the axe in the cherry orchard is the only sound that remains.
The play’s final moments function on two levels: literal and metaphorical. Literally, Firs has been left behind by everyone else in the play, and is going to die alone in the house he dedicated his life to while it falls down around him. Metaphorically, the same thing has happened to the entire way of life—and social system—that once governed Russia. The return of the strange, melancholy noise portends that swift change is on the horizon—and indeed it is, as Lopakhin’s men get back to work chopping down the cherry orchard and making way for the new world.