The golden notebook begins with Anna feeling happy and hopeful about a new stage of her relationship with Saul. However, she quickly falls back into a cycle of madness and bad dreams, encompassing all of the different figures and narratives stretched across the four notebooks. When she wakes up, she tells Saul that the two of them are bad for one another. The two of them argue and fall back into a manic cycle of debating and having sex.
Finally, Saul proposes that if Anna could fully articulate and confront her experiences, she might no longer be at the mercy of her madness. He tells her that he is going to force her to write, and he gives her the first sentence: "The two women were alone in the flat." He insists that if Anna can finish a novel, then so can he. She gives him the first sentence for his novel, and he agrees to use it on the condition that she give him the notebook. Then he asks her to cook for him.
During the night, Saul behaves in a childlike and vulnerable way, and when he and Anna get up in the morning, they both agree that the affair is over. Anna writes the first sentence she has given him inside of the golden notebook. He continues writing, completing a short novel about an intellectual friendship between an Algerian and a French soldier. The novel is eventually published and sells well.
The narrative shifts back to Free Women, recounting Anna's hesitation about allowing Janet to go to boarding school and her eventual acquiescence. Anna is then left alone: Marion and Tommy have gone away to Sicily, and Molly is busy taking care of Richard's young sons since he has gone abroad with his secretary. She considers having an affair; she sleeps with an American man named Nelson, but she is disappointed and decides not to pursue any other relationships. She also begins to pin clippings from newspapers and magazines to the walls of her flat. She knows that she is going mad, but she remains confident that, once Janet returns, she will be able to regain control in order to take care of her child. Anna is also tormented by guilt that her writings might somehow have driven Tommy to suicide and frustration at using language to express what she feels.
A friend asks Anna to take in an American acquaintance, a writer named Milt. Milt spends a few nights at Anna's flat; they sleep together once and part on friendly terms. After Milt leaves, Anna starts to look for a smaller apartment and a job. Molly phones Anna and tells her that she plans to get married. Her fiancée is a wealthy Jewish businessman. Tommy and Marion will be moving into Molly's house; Marion is running a small dress shop. Anna explains her own plans to start working, offering marriage counseling and teaching classes to disadvantaged youths. The two women part on amicable terms to return to their own lives.
Anna and Saul's relationship reaches its climax through a creative exchange: rather than conceiving a child together, they conceive generative ideas for each other. While the relationship has pushed both of them to the brink of madness, it also offers them a moment of mutual clarity. Anna gives Saul an idea for a novel which he is able to complete and publish, suggesting a new period of stability and productivity in his life. Saul likewise offers Anna the key to her liberation from her repression and writer's block: she should stop avoiding, and she should force herself to work through the process with unflinching honesty. As Roberta Rubenstein explains, "Her writer’s block is inseparable from her emotional paralysis; she cannot create artistically until she can free herself from destructive, often emotionally masochistic, responses in her intimate relationships" (pg. 109).
The first line which Saul suggests to Anna is notable for two reasons. First, it is simple and undramatic: Anna seems taken aback by its simplicity. As someone who wants to communicate complex ideas, she has stalled her own progress by paralyzing herself, and Saul offers her the liberating possibility of starting with simple, day-to-day reality. Second, the line he gives her is the first line of the opening section of the "Free Women" narrative. This revelation disrupts the reader's understanding of the inside and outside of the novel: effectively, there is nothing outside of fiction, and Anna has been crafting the story all along, even in the sections where she seemed to appear as a character and not a narrator.
The shift back to the "Free Women" narrative further disrupts reliability since it seems to replay events that had been featured in the blue and golden notebooks differently. Anna's affair with a man named Nelson reappears, but he is presented in different terms. The story of Anna taking in an American lodger is also retold, but this time his name is Milt, not Saul, and their relationship seems significantly different from the torturous and dramatic story Anna represents in her notebooks. Now that readers know that Anna is also writing "Free Women," they might read this as her attempt to once again clean up her story and sanitize the version she wants to present to the world. On the other hand, "Free Women" could be seen as the more "true" account, with the notebooks representing Anna's unhinged inner reality. Either way, these tensions make it clear that there is no definite way to separate different versions of events into tidy categories of fact and fiction. Anna's experiences can only be processed through her way of telling a story, and, as she laments, language also impinges on her ability to express what she wants to get across.
Whether or not the relationship with Milt parallels the relationship with Saul, both seem to conclude with Anna liberated from the chaos and frustration she was experiencing. She is suddenly able to take the actions she had been struggling to take for a long time, such as seeking out paying work and finding a living situation that will better suit her needs. It seems like Anna is on the road to achieving stability and balance, and also that she will be able to contribute to helping others in well-defined ways. While Anna has been preoccupied with searching for justice and truth on an intellectual and philosophical level, she has not spent much time doing things to help others outside of her immediate social circle. It seems probable that all of these changes are going to help her to be more grounded and functional. Likewise, Molly seems to have found a stable future in a happy relationship.
Notably, however, for both women, this stability seems to be achieved through conceding to live much more conventional lives. Despite all of her defiance, Molly ends up choosing domesticity and financial stability over the adventurous and creative life she seemed to want so much. It is unclear where writing is going to fit into Anna's new life, but by focusing on education and marriage counseling, she seems to be endorsing some socially normative institutions of which she previously would have been wary. The final scene doesn't provide much access to either woman's feelings, so it is unclear what they think about the choices they are making. They will always carry their memories and experiences with them, but the novel also ends with the suggestion that in order to avoid self-destruction, they have to resign themselves to some element of conformity. Writing about the novel's conclusion, Earl Ingersoll argues that "It may be in that sense, finally, that The Golden Notebook cannot actually end but must circle back to the beginning again— to begin again— with the frame novel."