The war ends,with the defeat of the Liberals, in May. Colonel Aureliano Buendia and his close comrade-in-arms, Colonel Gerinaldo Marquez, are captured and brought to Macondo. Ursula goes to visit him in prison; he seems more solitary than ever and is plagued by sores under his arms. He is sentenced to death by a (rather reluctant) firing squad. But as Colonel Aureliano Buendia is placed in front of the squad, dreaming of ice and awaiting the order to fire, Jose Arcadio arrives with his massive shotgun. The squad puts down their weapons and joins Colonel Aureliano Buendia on another war, one of the 32 uprisings he leads in his lifetime. At first the war is a string of failures and Colonel Aureliano Buendia is denounced and rejected by the Liberal Party officials. Undeterred, he finds some success with the fall of Riohacha and enters Macondo in triumph. The Buendia household, once again full of children, receives him with open arms.
Unfortunately tragedy plagues the household. Jose Arcadio, who has "continued to profit from the usurped lands," is killed in a mysterious fashion. Neither the reader nor the town can figure out if it was by his own hand or by an assassin. Rebeca, his wife, "closed the doors of her house and buried herself alive" with grief and despondency. The town forgets about her.
Colonel Aureliano Buendia also has a brush with deathbut unlike Jose Arcadio, he manages to live through an assassination attempt that involved "a dose of nux vomica strong enough to kill a horse" in his coffee. The attempt and his ensuing recovery leads Colonel Aureliano Buendia to the realization that he has not been fighting for any motive, only for his pride, and he becomes disillusioned with war. He sets off to make contact with the rebel groups in the interior in an effort to bring closure to the war; he leaves Colonel Gerinaldo Marquez in charge of the town.
A timid courtship blooms between Colonel Gerinaldo Marquez and Amaranta. Although Amaranta feels greatly for him and wishes that they could be together, she rejects his marriage proposal as she did Pietro Crespi's. Despite her unhappiness and Marquez's persistence, she sticks to her decision. Colonel Aureliano Buendia sends one of his prophetic messages to Ursula that Jose Arcadio Buendia is going to die. Concerned, Ursula arranges to have him moved from the tree to the bedroom, where he spends his days talking with the ghost of Prudencio Aguilar. Soon, he dies, and the heavens send a strong rain of yellow flowers onto the town.
Meanwhile, Aureliano Jose, Colonel Aureliano Buendia's son with Pilar Ternera, has come to maturity. Because of the intimacies he has shared with Amaranta, who has basically raised, him, he feels a deep attraction to heran attraction that she, to her dismay, shares and attempts to keep under control. When he gets the opportunity to leave the house which is driving him crazy, he does so with his father, Colonel Aureliano Buendiawho, dissatisfied with the peace agreement between the Liberals and the Conservatives, has set off to make war in other countries. With Aureliano gone, Macondo enters its golden period of prosperity, guided by the skillful, humane hands of Mayor Jose Raquel Moncada, a Conservative but a friend of Colonel Aureliano Buendia. A trickle of young boys17 in totalall come to the Buendia house to be baptized. They are the sons of Colonel Aureliano Buendia, fathered during his years of war up and down the coast. All the boys are named Aureliano and Ursula keeps track of all of them in a little notebook for Colonel Aureliano Buendia when he comes back.
Aureliano Jose deserts the army in Nicaragua and returns to Macondo, "with a secret determination to marry Amaranta." Amaranta sees this immediately and tries to deter him, warning him of the results of incest. He begins to take after his uncle Jose Arcadio with his lewd and lazy actions. Then, one night he is killed by a Conservative soldier during an uprising.
Colonel Aureliano Buendia returns, conquers the town, and reclaims Jose Arcadio Buendia's usurped lands. He also proves that prolonged war has affected his compassion--despite Ursula's pleading and his own long-standing relationship with the good mayor Jose Raquel Moncada, he condemns him to death. Unfortunately for both Colonel Aureliano Buendia and Macondo, Moncada's execution has serious, unforseen consequences.
Both Colonel Gerinaldo Marquez and Colonel Aureliano Buendia lose all faith and hope in the purpose of war. They realize that the Liberal Party is just as corrupt and faithless as the Conservative Party. Colonel Aureliano Buendia takes it harder, withdrawing from the world and behaving in an increasingly bizarre fashion. Unable to feel emotion, losing his memories, and distraught by the betrayals of his own army, Colonel Aureliano Buendia finds solace only in his solitude, which he treasures so much that he refuses to let anyone come within ten feet of him. It is only when he almost issues an execution for his loyal friend Colonel Gerinaldo Marquez that Colonel Aureliano Buendia realizes how far gone he is. Shaken, he decides to end the war for good, and it takes him two years to make peace between his own forces and the Conservative Party. Unfortunately, by this point, he is unable to make an emotional connection with anyone. Completely alienated from his family, distraught by the political order, he attempts suicide by shooting himself in the chest. Fortunately or unfortunately, he survives, and Ursula, happy again, throws open the house for redecorating and company.
Critic Regina James points out in her book on Solitude that it can be read as a parable of civilization, specifically Greek civilization: first comes settlement, then agricultural development, then scientific inquiry and achievement (Jose Arcadio Buendia's scientific experiments are a parody of this stage of development), then literature (Melquiades' texts and Aureliano's poetry), and finally, war and the building of an empire before a distinct decline (which will be reflected later in the book). But while this is certainly one rich way of reading Solitude, Marquez complicates this mode of reading by imbuing the book with a specific historical cycle that is a reflection of Latin America. The constant, useless war, the futility of politics, and the ultimate absurdity of the revolutionary project are themes not only in Solitude but also specific to Latin American history. By contrasting the rise of classical Greek civilization with the violence of his own civilization, Marquez is entering a dialogue between the two civilizations that questions where the first left off and the second began. He is also using this dialogue to question what Latin America would have been like had the Europeans never conquered it; e.g. if it had been free to develop and possibly turn into a colonial power the way ancient Greece did.
Mixed in with the commentary on civilization is a fierce critique of war and political violence. It is important to note that there are very few instances of fantastical things, hyperbolic language, or overwrought emotion during this section. In Marquez's opinion, the political events and the violence are fantastical enough. Our guide through this bizarre world is Colonel Aureliano Buendia. We are clearly meant to sympathize with Colonel Aureliano Buendia, as difficult as his actions are, and Marquez does a phenomenal job of making him human to us even though he loses all of his human characteristics. War is clearly the culprit for much of Colonel Aureliano Buendia's emotional collapse, and the fact is that he has had (and will have) at least as many atrocities committed against him as he committs against others. To make things even more interesting, the loss of memory and emotion that Colonel Aureliano Buendia suffers is strikingly similar to the inhabitants of Macondo during the insomnia plague. War and violence makes people forget their history just as tragically as a plague does.
Marquez develops the theme of solitude to one of its highest peaks during this section of the novel. Ursula, Amaranta, Aureliano Jose, and Colonel Aureliano Buendia all suffer from solitude and sadness. Instead of looking outside of themselves or their family to cure this condition, they circle tighter in on themselves and each other, making incest a threat once again and leaving all of them to self-destruct in their various ways. It is important to note that as Macondo reaches its climax of prosperity and happiness, the Buendias are also turning a corner. They will eventually delve into the depths of solitude and decadence, reflecting the eventual destruction of the town.