Opal plans her party. The afternoon before, she and Gloria make egg-salad sandwiches, which they de-crust and cut into triangles, and a punch which they serve in a large bowl. They decorate the yard by hanging crepe paper and putting out candles, which turns the yard “into a fairyland” (144).
On the day of, the guests arrive one by one. Miss Franny Block comes dressed up in a green dress and brings a large bowl of Littmus Lozenges. Sweetie Pie arrives with her mother and a collection of pictures of dogs, which she hangs on the trees with tape. The preacher comes dressed up and distributes compliments, and Amanda Wilkinson arrives with her hair curled. When Otis arrives, he is nervous about the party and tarries on the front porch, but Opal convinces him to enter. Before he can run away, she introduces him to the preacher.
On Gloria’s prompting, the preacher blesses the party and thanks God for friendship. As they turn to eat, it begins to rain. The preacher and Opal save the sandwiches and the punch while Sweetie Pie runs around to save her pictures. Amanda helps Miss Franny Block into Gloria’s house and Opal runs back out to help Gloria walk in as well. On her way into the house, she calls for Otis to follow.
In the kitchen, spirits are still high until Opal realizes that she has forgotten Winn-Dixie in the rain. She runs out into the yard but can’t find him. She is close to tears when the Dewberry brothers arrive, and although she doesn’t want to say hello, Gloria Dump makes her greet them. Gloria hands Opal a flashlight and tells her that she can’t love the things that leave, so she must “love what you got while you got it” (158).
The preacher and Opal leave the party to look for Winn-Dixie. They look all over town, through downtown, into the trailer park, and along the highway to no avail. Opal worries that Winn-Dixie has been hit by a car, and the preacher tells her that they cannot worry about what might have happened, that instead, they must keep looking. As Opal searches for Winn-Dixie she compiles a list of ten things she knows about him, so that she can put it on missing posters all over the neighborhood.
Eventually, the preacher tells Opal that it is time to stop their search. Opal is resistant to stopping and angry at her father for suggesting they do so. She tells her father that he always gives up, that she bets he “didn’t even go out looking for my mama when she left. I bet you just let her run off, too” (165). The preacher tells her that he tried to stop her mother from leaving, and asks if she thinks he doesn’t miss her. Then he starts to cry. He tells Opal that losing Winn-Dixie upsets him as much as it upsets her, that he loves that dog as much as she does.
Opal hugs her father. He is “crying so hard he was shaking” (166). She shushes him and tells him everything will be okay. They stand, hugging, for a long time, and eventually, Opal gets the courage to ask her father if he thinks her mother will ever come back. The preacher tells her no, that he has prayed and dreamed about it for years, but that he doesn’t think she will. They decide to keep looking for Winn-Dixie, and the preacher tells Opal that he is glad to have her. They walk back into town holding hands, calling for Winn-Dixie the entire way.
As they approach Gloria Dump’s house, they hear music. Otis is playing his guitar and the others are clapping along. Gloria tells Opal and the preacher that Winn-Dixie had been at the house all along. They found him hiding underneath Gloria Dump’s bed, sneezing because he was smiling so widely at Otis’ music. The party is full and happy as Otis plays music and everyone sings along and they eat pickles and Littmus Lozenges.
Opal slips out of the kitchen and into the yard in order to talk to Gloria’s mistake tree. She speaks to her mother and tells her that the ten things she knows about her aren’t enough. She tells her mother that she misses her and will never stop, but that her heart doesn’t feel empty anymore. Dunlap comes into the yard and Opal apologizes for calling him and his brother bald-headed babies. He holds out his hand to Opal in order to help her up. They enter the house and return to the singing.
In this section, we see Opal enjoy the community she has built that summer. She has gathered the unlike grouping of people and created a condition of harmony and goodwill among all of them. Although they are all united through Opal and Winn-Dixie, the people at Opal's party build connections with each other outside of Opal, as is demonstrated by the friendship that forms between Otis and Gloria. The party itself is appropriately beautiful, and Opal is given pleasure through sharing this beauty with her loved ones: "It looked so pretty that it made my heart feel funny, all swollen and full, and I wished desperately that I knew where my mama was so she could come to the party, too" (145).
Opal was always empathetic, but over the course of the summer as Opal interacted with kinds of people that she had never met before in her life, Opal became more empathetic than before. She is able to build a connection with Amanda despite her earlier intolerance of the girl's mannerisms. She realizes that she is happy that Amanda came to the party, and treats Amanda especially sweetly in response. Opal is also able to welcome Otis to the party, even though he is incredibly nervous and hesitant to enter. She speaks to him gently and in a low tenor in order to comfort him as much as possible. Much like Winn-Dixie, Opal has learned how to communicate with individuals based upon their individual needs from her. Opal shows how protective she can be of her friends, no matter how close she is to them.
The party is an ode to the beauty of friendship. All of the lonely characters that have touched Opal's life are now gathered in one place. They celebrate this new community through joyous singing. Opal has brought a blessing into all of these people's lives by creating a space where they can gather in love and friendship. When the preacher blesses the party, he thanks God for the blessing of friendship. He tells God that the group appreciates the "complicated and wonderful gifts you give us in each other" (153). He acknowledges what he sees as a task God has given them, which is "loving each other the best we can" (153). When the partygoers begin to sing, Opal is the only one who doesn't know the words. She isn't discouraged. Instead, she is receptive to this new lesson, and the opportunity to learn how to sing along with them.
Winn-Dixie going missing is the climax of the story. Although the rain at first seemed to be more of an inconvenience than a tragedy, Opal's night is soon ruined when she realizes that in her rush to save the food and help Gloria, she has forgotten Winn-Dixie in the rain. She is angry at herself for neglecting Winn-Dixie and his fear of thunder. Gloria takes the opportunity to tell Opal that she can't "hold onto something that wants to go" (158). The lesson falls goes unheard by Opal in her frenzied state, but she comes back to it when she finally accepts that her mother won't be coming back and it is time to let her go. As Opal searches for Winn-Dixie, she compiles a list of ten of his traits in her head. At this moment, Winn-Dixie is symbolically replacing Opal's mother. A key difference here is that Opal creates the list herself without any help from someone else. Making the list helps Opal realize that knowing those ten things about Winn-Dixie would never approximate knowing him for real.
Opal's vulnerable moment in the rain with her father helps her finally let her mother go. They confront her leaving together for the first time. Opal is shown the depths of her father's pain and is given the opportunity to comfort him. They acknowledge together that Opal's mother is not coming back, and the preacher is given the opportunity to tell his daughter that he is glad that she left Opal behind for him. At Gloria's house, Opal slips away to talk to her mother. She has realized that ten things aren't enough to know about her mother. She finds the tree that Gloria helped her plant and realizes that she can let go of her pain in the same way that Gloria did. She is able to leave her longing for her mother outside and rejoin the party.