After the harvest has ended, Antonio returns to school and tells Samuel that he has seen the golden carp. Samuel is very pleased but warns Antonio that his classmates will not understand his family’s defense of an accused witch. At the schoolyard, Ernie and some of the other boys accuse Antonio of living with a witch and Antonio gets into a fight with them. After the teachers break up the fight, the boys go into their classes, and no one taunts Antonio about Ultima again.
There is a terrible blizzard on the scheduled day of the Christmas pageant at school. Although Antonio’s sisters stay home, Antonio decides to brave the blizzard in order to participate in the school play. Antonio and the rest of his friends are the only students to arrive at school, but Miss Violet decides to perform the Christmas pageant anyway, resulting in a chaotic and disastrous scene.
On his way home after the play, Antonio sees Tenorio and Narciso fighting in the street. Eventually Tenorio runs off, vowing to kill both Narciso and Ultima. Determined to warn Ultima of this danger, the badly injured Narciso staggers to Rosie’s brothel and calls Andrew to the door to help him. Andrew, preoccupied with one of Rosie’s girls, scoffs at Narciso’s concern and goes back inside. Narciso decides to warn Ultima on his own and sets off for the Marez house, still unaware that Antonio is following him. On his way to the Marez house, Tenorio ambushes Narciso and shoots him. After Tenorio flees, Antonio kneels beside Narciso as he lays dying and agrees to hear his last confession.
Antonio runs to his house and tells his family what has happened. Overcome with fever, Antonio dreams of his brother being pulled into the fires of hell by the girl at Rosie’s. In his dream, Antonio begs God to forgive Andrew of his sins, and a voice replies that Andrew can be forgiven only if Tenorio is forgiven as well. Antonio sees the blood of Narciso and the blood of Lupito mix in the river and watches in horror as a giant mob demands Ultima’s blood. Antonio’s three brothers appear and then transform into the Trementina sisters and place a curse on Antonio. As Antonio dies from the curse, he sees the mob kill Ultima and his family and eat the forbidden carp from the river. He hears a thundering of the earth and watches as a huge rift opens and swallows the town of Guadalupe. The Luna farmers from El Puerto arrive and bury the ashes of Antonio’s family. The golden carp appears and swallows all of the ash and sinners still left in the world and brings forth a new pure world under a new sun.
After his fever breaks, Antonio remains bedridden for several days, still weak from pneumonia. He discovers that his father had found Narciso’s body and accused Tenorio of murder. Unfortunately, because the only witness was a seven year old boy, the coroner ultimately decides that Narciso’s death was accidental. When Andrew comes to visit Antonio in his sickroom, he seems ill-at-ease, and Antonio wonders if he betrayed his brother’s secret about Rosie’s. Ultima assures Antonio that he did not expose Andrew during his fever.
After Antonio recovers, he spends most of his Christmas vacation listening to Ultima’s stories and reciting his catechism in Spanish and English with his mother. Eugene and Leon visit the family during Christmas vacation after being brought home in a police car; while they were driving from Las Vegas, they totaled their car and were forced to burn it to stay warm. Eugene, Leon and Andrew spend the evening playing pool in town, and Antonio’s father feels increasing bitterness about the wandering Marez blood in his sons. Even though Eugene and Leon are back, Gabriel knows that they will soon leave again. The following day, Leon and Eugene leave for Santa Fe, this time taking Andrew with them.
Spring arrives, and Antonio goes back to school. He feels older, weighted down by his experience with Narciso’s death and does not understand why Tenorio remains unpunished for his crimes. Antonio hopes that all of his questions will finally be answered by his first Communion.
On the way home from school, Antonio is confronted by an enraged Tenorio. The second of Tenorio’s three daughters is now dying, and Tenorio swears that he will kill Ultima. Tenorio leaves without hurting him, and Antonio quickly runs home to tell Ultima what has happened. Ultima reassures Antonio that she is prepared for her enemy and that Tenorio will not be able to ambush her as easily as he did Narciso.
Antonio’s fight with his classmates demonstrates another example of the mob mentality that Antonio is beginning to understand. Just as Tenorio’s mob was eager to accuse Ultima of being a witch, Antonio’s classmates quickly band together to taunt Antonio about Ultima. With each additional conflict of ideas that Antonio faces, he becomes more and more aware of the numerous perspectives that shape the truth in the world. Although Antonio’s friends still believe that Ultima is a witch, his willingness to fight his friends in her defense convinces them to leave him alone. Anaya introduces the farce of the Christmas pageant to provide some comic relief. This scene is one of the few comic moments in the novel, and it provides the readers with some insight into the less traumatic life experiences that also make up Antonio’s development.
When Antonio sees Andrew at Rosie’s brothel, he feels betrayed on many levels. First of all, Antonio realizes that his idealized vision of his brother is illusory: Andrew is just as “lost” as his other brothers. Moreover, Antonio feels the loss of his own innocence. In one of his earlier dreams, Andrew had promised to wait to enter Rosie’s until Antonio loses his innocence. Because Andrew has been sinning at Rosie's, Antonio must conclude that his innocence has been lost.
Andrew’s inaction despite Narciso’s request also provides some insight into his later behavior. Because of Andrew’s laziness, Narciso is murdered by Tenorio and Antonio is forced to witness yet another traumatic moment. Andrew feels terrible guilt at what he is done and feels the loss of his former close relationship with Antonio. This palpable loss of Antonio’s respect and approval proves to Andrew that his efforts to stay in Guadalupe are hopeless. By moving to Santa Fe with his other brothers, Andrew demonstrates that his loss of innocence is truly complete.
Narciso’s murder forces Antonio to come to grips with more questions about sin and punishment. He is forced to assume the position of a priest to take Narciso’s last confession even though he feels unworthy and extremely uncomfortable. Antonio is also unable to figure out why God does not punish Tenorio for his crime against Narciso. This concern, then, prompts Antonio’s eighth dream in which Antonio attempts to garner salvation for his family. The voice of Heaven points out that Antonio asks for forgiveness for some and for punishment for others, something that is impossible. In the next part of the dream, Antonio witnesses the apocalypse prophesied by the golden carp; he and his family members are murdered by an evil mob, and everyone from the town is destroyed. Yet, Antonio’s vision ends with hope as the golden carp establishes a new world to make up for the old. In this view, the golden carp allows for both punishment and forgiveness and destroys the entire world only so that it can be remade in purity.
The town’s dismissal of Narciso’s death also introduces Antonio to the injustices that are prompted by prejudice. Because the entire town views Narciso as a drunk, they do not deem him worthy of an investigation for a so-called “murder.” Although all of the evidence is against it, the coroner categorizes the murder as an accident and ensures that Narciso will not receive any legal justice. Antonio also learns that Narciso’s drunkenness is the result of hardship and unhappiness in his life, a fact that the townspeople did not consider when branding Narciso as a drunk.