The rains last for four years, eleven months, and two days. Aureliano Segundo was at home when the rains started and stays there, temporarily abandoning Petra Cotes to putter around the house and look after the remaining children, Amaranta Ursula and Meme's son Aureliano. He is calm and introspective now, weathered by personal tragedies and the troubles that the town has suffered. Fernanda is thankful that he does not attempt to sleep with her, as she has been suffering from a mysterious uterine ailment. She spends her time corresponding with "invisible doctors" who do not have a cure. Colonel Gerineldo Marquez dies, and as Ursula watches the procession she comments that she is only waiting for the rain to be over before she will die. In the meantime she has become a shriveled doll for the children to dress up and play with.
When Aureliano Segundo finally returns to Petra Cotes, he realizes that he is no longer a rich manall of his livestock has been killed by the rain. He returns to the Buendia household "convinced that not only Ursula but all the inhabitants of Macondo were waiting for it to clear in order to die." Fernanda does not react well to their contracted fortunes and takes to preaching at Aureliano Segundo, who breaks every valuable thing in the house in an attempt to shut her up. Aureliano Segundo is more interested in the fortune Ursula has hidden somewhere in the house and spends a great deal of time and energy excavating the house in a fruitless attempt to find it. In this manner he loses all the weight he has gained during his years of revelry and is occupied until the rains end.
Macondo is in ruins. The banana plantation has been washed away, and much of the town is deserted. The only settlers left are those who were there before the foreign businessmen arrived. Petra Cotes survives, and with her one remaining mule she attempts to rejuvenate her raffle business. Aureliano Segundo rejoins her. Though they are poor, they fall deeply in love with each other again, and are happier than ever. Meanwhile, Ursula is disturbed by the mold and decay that have befallen the house. "If we go on like this we'll be devoured by animals," she says. She decides with renewed vigor that it is time to renovate the house yet again. She sweeps out all the debris of past tragedies and banishes the mildew from the rains. During her renovations she discovers the forgotten Jose Arcadio Segundo, still cloistered in Melquiades' workshop. She tries to get him to help her with the house, but he is too afraid to face the world and she realizes that he is locked in a world of shadows even more dense than her own.
Aureliano Segundo works hard with Petra Cotes, trying to ease his financial burdens. He sees less of his daughter and grandson, who are quickly growing up. Aureliano, left at the questionable mercy of Fernanda, grows into a thin, curious young man who lacks Colonel Aureliano Buendia's clairvoyance. After the first wave of sunshine, Ursula loses her lucidity and quickly shrivels into a "fetus." Less and less in touch with the present, she finally passes away on Good Friday. Jose Arcadio's widow Rebeca dies not long at the end of the year, "curled up like a shrimp."
The town suffers from a terrible heat wave; many residents begin to think that they are plagued. All the birds in town die and there are sightings of "an infernal beast" named the Wandering Jew, something of a cross between a woman and a goat. The town itself settles into a long period of decay. The people are indolent, with wandering minds, and they have lost their collective memory: when the president of the republic arrives for yet another jubilee, none of them remember Colonel Aureliano Buendia or any of his descendents.
After Ursula's death, the Buendia house too suffers a great decline. Fernanda closes up the house and it remains closed. Aureliano Segundo visits only occasionally for his daughter, Amaranta Ursula, who is turning into a pretty young woman with good judgment and a fine discipline for study. Aureliano Segundo devotes himself to raising money so that she may study in Europe. Little Aureliano, meanwhile, becomes increasingly withdrawn as he approaches puberty. Eventually he makes friends with Jose Arcadio Segundo. The latter feels compassion for another solitary soul and takes him under his wing. He teaches Aureliano how to read and write, introduces him to Melquiades' texts and indoctrinates him with the history of Macondo and his memory of the banana massacre.
Aureliano Segundo's health is fading, so he works harder than ever to raise the money for Amaranta Ursula's studies. The ensuing raffles make him a laughingstock in town, but he manages to raise the money, and Amaranta Ursula goes off to Brussels. Relieved, he dies at the same instant as his twin brother Jose Arcadio Segundo. The latter dies with his eyes open, after giving Aureliano a reminder never to forget the dead workers. At the burial, the attendents are both sad and drunk, and they mix up the bodies, so that Jose Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo, as identical in death as they were at birth, wind up in each other's graves.
The rains that follow the massacre are symbolic in three different ways. The first reference, and the most obvious one, is the reference to the flood in the book of Genesis. As in Noah's time, the land had become full of wickedness, and the flood gave rise to a new world. The reason why this symbolism does not completely explain the flood of Macondo is that, in the book of Genesis, the flood was an opportunity for rebirth and regeneration, whereas in Macondo it merely leads to a swift decline. This leads to the second reference for the flood: the book of Exodus, and the story of Moses, who with God's help invokes a series of plagues on the Egyptians. It is certainly the case that Macondo is suffering from a series of plagues: first water, then heat, and then the appearance of strange, inhuman visitors and prophets. With this reference, Marquez opens up the possibility that the residents of Macondoand, by extension, the natives of Latin Americaare slaves to the colonial, imperialist order, waiting for a Moses to set them free.
The final reference is hinted at in the novel: the possibility that the gringos and the plantation owners, who have powers that were formerly reserved for God, brought down the flood as punishment. This is certainly a possibility, since the flood has the long-term effect of wiping out the town. It has the added bonus of erasing the town's memory and even the plantation itself, so that no one will ever know what really happened there.
If this is true, the foreigners had not counted on Jose Arcadio Segundo, who despite his isolation manages to keep memory alive in another outsider, his grand-nephew Aureliano. It is fortunate that Aureliano is as sequestered and as introspective as his great-uncle, because the town's insidious memory has forgotten all history and would consequently lead Aureliano to forget the lessons of Jose Arcadio Segundo. But he takes up where his great-uncle has left off, both with Melquiades' texts and his role as the living repository of memory. As the town continues its swift decline, he becomes the last hope for a savior in Macondoa situation that will prove tragic.