Emma's debts have finally caught up with her. Policemen arrive at the Bovary house to inventory the contents of the house, which will be used to pay Emma's debts. To prevent Emma from removing anything, they leave a man behind to guard the house. To prevent Charles from learning of the shame that has fallen on his house, Emma hides the man in the attic and tries to come up with alternative ways to get the needed money--approximately 8,000 francs. Bankers in Rouen refuse her loan requests, so Emma turns to Leon. Leon refuses to steal money from his boss, but he does agree to try to raise money from friends and bring it to her. After her desperate round of pleas, Emma heads home and tosses her last five francs to the blind beggar who has haunted her every trip between Rouen and Yonville. Upon returning to Yonville, she discovers a public notice announcing the Bovary auction. Emma feels mortified.
Among her last-ditch fundraising attempts, Emma almost sells herself. First she visits Guillaumin, the town lawyer, who has yearned for Emma for quite some time and now asks for sexual favors in return for the money. Emma is offended and storms away from him. Next, Emma visits the tax collector, Binet, while two Yonville women spy on their exchange. Binet is making napkin rings in the attic while Emma begs him for more time to pay. When he refuses, she attempts to seduce him, but Binet is uninterested. Finally, Emma desperately decides to visit Rodolphe, hoping he will still feel love for her and will help her if she offers herself to him.
Although Rodolphe is still very attracted to Emma, he becomes distant upon discovering why she is visiting. He tells her he cannot help her because he does not have the available funds. Emma is horrified and leaves in anger, finally realizing that her situation is truly desperate.
Having determined that she simply cannot face this terrible reality, Emma heads straight for the apothecary shop. She convinces Justin to allow her access to the cabinet with the arsenic. Without hesitation, Emma eats a large handful of it and heads directly home, feeling at peace with her decision and imagining how simple a death she will have.
By this point, Charles has discovered the scheduled auction. He searches the house for Emma. After he discovers her in bed, Emma dramatically hands him a letter, directing him not to read it until the following day.
While waiting for the poison to take hold, Emma does not feel a thing. She believes she will simply fall asleep and never wake up. Soon, she discovers how wrong she is. As the torture of the arsenic begins, she begins to taste something inky, an unbearable pain develops in her stomach, and she becomes violently ill. Concerned over her health and what she might have done to herself, Charles opens the letter and discovers that she has eaten arsenic. In desperation, he and Homais try to decide what to do and how to save her. Meanwhile, Emma behaves extremely kindly to Charles and asks to see their daughter, Berthe. Homais considers that the best course of action would be to create an antidote, but with little time, they call in doctors from Rouen, including the well known LariviÃ¨re. However, none can help her, and the priest soon arrives to give her the final sacrament. In Emma's final moments, her husband weeps by her bedside, and she cries with him, finally realizing how much he truly loved her. As she dies, the last thing Madame Bovary hears is the sound of the haunting, blind beggar singing on the street below.
Despite his recently discovered debt, Charles plans an expensive funeral for Emma. He makes sure she will be interred wearing her wedding dress and will be laid inside three coffins. Charles stays by Emma's body, and Homais and the priest Bournisien join him. The two visitors engage in discussion about the importance of prayer, and Charles speaks out angrily against God. As the maid is dressing Emma in her wedding gown, she shifts the body, causing black liquid to pour from Emma's mouth. Later, Charles lifts the veil to look at Emma's face, and he cries out in horror. Then, he asks Homais to cut a lock of her hair for him to keep as a token of her beauty and as a way to hold on to her forever.
During Emma's struggle with the arsenic, her father Rouault was informed of her illness. Now, after her death, he arrives in Yonville to discover that his only daughter has died. Rouault is devastated and attends the funeral, along with the rest of the town, including even Hippolyte. But Justin is too pained at Emma's death and cannot bring himself to see her buried. Later, in the middle of the night, Justin visits her grave to say goodbye.
Creditor after creditor contacts Charles asking for payment of excessive amounts of money. Charles decides to collect on his patients' bills, but he discovers that Emma already did so. Thus, his only options are to continue to borrow, placing himself in increasing debt, and to sell things from his home. Although he is faced with the results of Emma's outlandish behavior, he only remembers her as pure, good, and lovely. Ironically, when he discovers Leon is engaged, he writes a letter to congratulate him. One day, he happens upon the letter from Rodolphe that Emma dropped in the attic on the day she was meant to elope, but Charles convinces himself that the love expressed therein must have been simply platonic.
As time passes, Charles's life grows more solitary. Homais visits him less, in part because he is spending so much time trying to rid Yonville of the nuisance of the blind beggar. One day, Charles finally decides to go through Emma's personal items and opens her desk. That is where, he finds, Emma stored all her love letters from Rodolphe and Leon. Charles reads them all, finally discovering and acknowledging her infidelity. As his perfect image of his wife crashes down around him, Charles sinks into a deep depression and becomes a true recluse.
At the same time, he is forced to sell almost everything he owns to keep creditors away. To sell his horse, Charles travels to Rouen and he runs into Rodolphe. The two men have a drink together, and Rodolphe apologizes for his role in the awful turns that Charles's life has taken. Charles explains that he knows of Rodolphe and Emma's affair, but he offers that since fate is to blame, he does not harbor a personal resentment.
The next day, however, Charles dies quite suddenly in his garden. All of his remaining possessions are given to his creditors, and Berthe is sent to live with his mother. Unfortunately, Charles's mother then dies herself, and Berthe is sent to live with an impoverished aunt and forced to work in a cotton mill. In contrast, Homais unexpectedly meets great success and is eventually awarded the Legion of Honor medal.
As the book comes to the climax of Emma's death, her illicit behavior and her spiraling financial ruin become too much for her to bear. Their reality finally overtakes all of her efforts to remain in a world of fantastic romantic unreality. In her final pleas for help, Emma finally offers to whore herself in order to pay her debts. She does refuse the lawyer, but his offer puts that option on the table. Very soon, she attempts to seduce Binet and Rodolphe. Emma's behavior grows increasingly desperate, and in her panic she loses all moral fortitude. Even in this state, though, she is thoughtlessly acting on impulse; Flaubert writes that she is "not in the least conscious of her prostitution."
We observe that Emma's extravagant lifestyle has finally overtaken her. She can no longer push away the looming debt or live in her imagined fantasies. She tries desperately, impulsively, frantically to prevent total bankruptcy, but she can do nothing more to hold it off. None of her love interests will help her, and she has no available means for manipulation. Once reality breaks into her life with an intense rush of pain and promises of further pain, it becomes impossible for Emma to brace herself for the worst. She has no real experience standing strong in the face of disaster; she has always taken an easier path.
Emma also fears that she might lose the love of Charles, once he discovers her affairs and debts. Soon to have no possessions or property to her name--the opposite of the rich lifestyle she has always wanted--and faced with the prospect of having nothing and no reasonable hope for the future, Emma decides in a rush that her only option is to kill herself.
Figuratively, Emma's suicide is tied to her obsession with consumption, in that she eats the powder directly. Ultimately, her addiction to consumption is what kills her. Her suicide is her final attempt at a romantic, novelistic life. She believes that the arsenic will allow her a dramatic yet painless death, but she once again proves wrong. Emma suffers incredibly in her final hours, begging for death and screaming in anguish.
Although Emma's troubles are almost entirely her own fault, some critics have focused on the limits on women in Emma's town. Emma resists what she perceives as a boring existence as wife and mother, but she has never been given a realistic alternative except the even more boring life, as she sees it, of the convent. Men exercise the main financial power in the town, and they are good at manipulating Emma's desires. When Emma gains significant power over Charles's fortune, she does not use it wisely. Since Emma's perspective on the world is thoroughly romanticized, she only has power over other romantics. Thus, Emma's only real power is sexual, and this power is what she finally uses in manipulating Justin into giving her access to the arsenic. The realists deny Emma's offers of sexual favors.
Throughout Emma's death scene, Flaubert provides further commentary on Emma's world. Most notably, he again demonstrates disgust for Homais's bourgeois pretensions when Homais tells LariviÃ¨re that he "delicately introduced a tube" in order to analyze Emma's state. The doctor mocks Homais, saying, "you would have done better to introduce your fingers into her throat." Homais, who believes that he is highly knowledgeable, is made to look a fool, and the idiocy of his statement is made immediately clear.
The chapters following Emma's death demonstrate how her careless lifestyle has finally affected all of those who truly cared for her.
At first, Charles maintains an idealistic view of his late wife, but as he falls into poverty and discovers her infidelity, his spirit is broken. Charles cannot remain alive once he meets Rodolphe and suffers through another reappraisal of Emma's actions.
In contrast, Leon and Rodolphe do not weep for Emma at the time of her funeral, while Justin, the innocent young boy who loved her deeply, sobs over her grave. Rodolphe's and even Leon's reactions show that her relationships with the two men were superficial, as we already inferred. These men cannot properly mourn for the woman of their affairs.
After Charles's death, the devastation of Emma's family continues. Berthe starts to live a life that would have horrified Emma. The girl is forced to live in poverty with a lower-class aunt and must work as a laborer in a mill. Berthe's new life contrasts sharply with the relative comfort and privilege that Emma knew but never appreciated. Emma's excessive, unreasonable dissatisfaction with her life sent her husband and child into abject misery.
Thus Madame Bovary comes full circle; Emma is absent from both the first and last chapters of the book. Ultimately the perspective in the novel is broader than Emma's alone. Although in her world the goal was to live dramatically, romantically, somehow like the viscount, as though the world could be centered around her, the real life of the town goes on. Madame Bovary becomes a social-class tragedy only because Emma refuses to be satisfied with a status system that seems to be acceptable to everyone else. Yet, Emma is not in the least a worthy figure of intelligent resistance, being obsessively focused on herself and her unrealistic loves and lovers.
Flaubert's last sentence, which elaborates Homais's medal of honor, offers a final swipe at bourgeois mediocrity.