Over winter break Toru makes his second visit to Ami Hostel to see Naoko. She gives him a handjob and a blowjob so that he can better remember her, and he tells her that he will soon move from the dorm into an apartment where he hopes Naoko can join him. Although she appreciates his kindness and optimism, she still feels confused with her problems. In March Toru moves to a small house and spends a great deal of time organizing things and tidying the garden. He writes to Naoko but then remembers that he hasn't been in contact with Midori; calling her house, he finds her enraged and refusing to speak to him. He spends spring break waiting for letters from either Naoko or Midori but receives none. The next month Reiko writes to him telling him that Naoko's condition has worsened, which was what prevented her from replying to his letters.
With his optimism shattered, Toru depressively retreats into his room for three days, but then receives a letter from Midori asking to meet. This draws him back into life, and he decides that he must mature and gain a sense of responsibility. When they meet, Midori remarks upon how much gaunter Toru looks but then leaves unexpectedly early, leaving a note for Toru to read later in which she complains that he hasn't noticed the new hairstyle she got for him, and how in general he is too wrapped up in his own problems to allow others to help him. When he sees her in class, she refuses to speak with him, and so he is plunged into painful solitariness. He is somewhat comforted by making the acquaintance of Itoh, a painting student with artistic interests similar to Toru's; the two chat about love and human understanding.
It is not until the middle of June that Midori reconnects with Toru. They go eat lunch at a department store, and then Midori tells Toru that she has broken up with her boyfriend for him. The two kiss passionately and then go back to the apartment where Midori now lives, where she gives him a handjob. He realizes that he is truly in love with Midori but asks her to wait, since he is still bound to Naoko. Torn between his feelings for the two girls, he writes to Reiko explaining his situation. She tells him to not worry and to go in the direction he feels is natural and tells him that Naoko seems to be improving.
"Thinking back on the year 1969,” Toru reflects, “all that comes to mind for me is a swamp…Time itself slogged along in a rhythm with my faltering steps. The people around me had gone on ahead long before, while my time and I hung back, struggling through them mud. The world around me was on the verge of great transformations" (236). Despite the fact that Toru lives in the middle of all these "great transformations" by staying in Tokyo rather than some secluded place like Ami Hostel, he still senses that his experience of time is divorced from that of the rest of the world, slowed down to the point that it seems he is out of time. His letters to Naoko and constant thinking of her, especially when he masturbates, makes him keep one foot in that strange otherworldly world; finding random girls to sleep with was admittedly a very self-destructive habit, but at least it kept him bound to the rhythm of the city and the real world.
During Toru’s second visit to Ami Hostel, Naoko is of course concerned about whether Toru has remembered her, and considering the great importance that sexuality has to memory in this novel, it isn't surprising that Naoko gives Toru another handjob and furthermore a blowjob: "here's something else for you to remember," she tells him (238). Far from being a raunchy throwaway detail—a characterization that would be contradicted by the very subdued descriptions of the acts—the sexual acts represent the attempts of young people to maintain contact and understanding despite separation; although Toru writes to Naoko in a letter that "the most important thing is for us to be always near each other," just as he had suggested in the scene in the meadow opening the novel that the two stay together and on this his second visit that Naoko move in with him in a Tokyo apartment, both understand that they may not be able to always be together in person. Nevertheless, this may be possible through the medium of memory (241).
There is a rather bizarre interlude in which Nagasawa suggests that Toru get together with Hatsumi after he leaves for his Foreign Ministry job; one wonders whether Toru would have at least tried to become closer to Hatsumi to protect her if he knew that she would later commit suicide, but in any case the parallel to Kizuki's passing Naoko on to Toru is unmistakable. Somehow both Kizuki and Nagasawa feel confident that Toru could take care of their respective girlfriends, perhaps even better than they themselves were able to.
When Toru moves into his new house, he involves himself in the world of moving and cleaning things so thoroughly that he neglects all else. During this time he has a revealing conversation with his landlord, in which the landlord says: "Traveling is no fun. I'd much rather be working" (244). We should remember that Toru has done both of these activities: he habitually travels around on his own and also almost always has a job of some sort. This dialectical pair will be become all the more important when we consider the month-long trip that Toru takes out of grief for Naoko's death, which is obviously an attempt to flee from his feelings. Work, on the other hand, involves staying in a single place and confronting issues head-on; but as Toru finds, his engrossing himself in the work of moving made him neglect both Naoko and Midori.
Midori's reaction of angrily refusing to speak with Toru is quite direct and characteristic of her. What is much more speculative is whether the downturn in Naoko's emotional condition, though it happened several months before Toru's move in March, was connected at all with his not paying attention to Naoko. The argument stands on somewhat shaky grounds, but we can see how Toru's inability to commit his emotions completely to her leads to the loosening of the bond between them, the only thing holding her back from the world of the dead. As Reiko writes in her letter:
"Looking back, I see now that the first symptom of her problem was her loss of the ability to write letters…Then she started hearing things. Whenever she would try to write a letter, she would hear people talking to her,, which made it impossible for her to write. The voices would interfere with her attempts to choose her words" (245). As before, Naoko's emotional problems manifest themselves primarily in difficulties in expressing herself.
This development shatters Toru's former optimism for Naoko's recovery and thereby of his life in general—we can recall the unconditional and simply confident assurances and promises that Toru makes to Naoko that she will get better, and also to Midori that he will take care of her. This presents one of the greatest challenges to Toru's personality and is felt quite viscerally by him in his vivid musings on spring: "Naoko's beautiful flesh lay before me in the darkness, countless buds bursting through her skin, green and trembling in an almost imperceptible breeze. Why did such a beautiful body have to be so sick?" (247.) What he once found beautiful and full of vitality now seems to be a process of decay that threatens to rob him of Naoko. But of course this makes sense, since Naoko's "perfect flesh" that he saw in the moonlight was not the flesh of any living person: the buds symbolize the force of regenerative life, in the form of death, piercing through what remains of Naoko.
Thus Toru is plunged into a depression that seems eerily similar to what Naoko is going through: "My whole body felt enveloped in some kind of membrane, cutting off any direct contact between me and the outside world. I couldn't touch 'them,' and 'they' couldn't touch me. I was utterly helpless, and as long as I remained in that state, 'they' were unable to reach out to me" (247). As with Naoko, the crucial problem that Toru faces is the separation between the self and the world, which feels very much like being trapped in one's own world. As has already happened several times, it is Midori who breaks him out of this shell—although she cuts their reunion short, realizing that he is still trapped within himself in a way that prevents him from seeing her, exemplified in his not noticing her new haircut.
In a very Naoko-like move, she writes a letter to him to explain herself: "This is the first time in my life I've ever written a letter to someone sitting next to me on a bench, but I feel it's the only way I can get through to you. I mean, you're hardly listening to anything I say. Am I right?" (252).
Over the next two months Midori refuses to speak with Toru in class, and having lost his last real human connection, Toru finds himself once again in a painful isolation, made all the more painful by the joy of spring: "It was as if I were writing letters to hold together the pieces of my crumbling life" (258).
However, it is during this time, perhaps even more than his three days of depression after hearing of Naoko's worsening health, that Toru truly matures, realizing in Midori's absence how much of a presence she had become in his life; his friendship with Itoh helps him come to this realization and sets him back on his feet. After reuniting with Midori—very characteristically, over a meal—Toru comes the closest to consummating his love with her, but out of consideration for Naoko the two do not do more than Midori giving Toru a handjob. With Midori promising to wait for Toru and Reiko writing an encouraging letter about Naoko's health, the novel reaches its optimistic peak.