Count Vronsky, an up-and-coming military officer, goes to the Moscow train station to meet his mother, Countess Vronsky, who is traveling in from Petersburg.
On the station platform, he meets (and is immediately attracted to) Anna Karenina, who is visiting her brother.
There has been a terrible accident at the station: a drunken watchmen has fallen on the train tracks and been severed in two. To impress Anna with his generosity, Vronsky gives 200 rubles to the watchman's family.
Vronsky has been pursuing Kitty Shcherbatsky, Anna's sister-in-law, with some eagerness. He doesn't realize that Kitty expects him to propose to her, so he has no moral problems with switching his attentions to (married) Anna.
After dancing much of the evening at a Moscow ball with Anna, Vronsky decides to pursue her to her home at Petersburg.
Anna resists Vronsky's temptations and begs him to reconcile with Kitty, but he replies that he is in love with Anna.
After Anna's husband, Karenin, accuses her of having an affair, she's so riled up that she finally gives in to Vronsky's seductions.
Anna and Vronsky's affair becomes common knowledge in Petersburg society. Everyone disapproves of their clear love for each other, especially Countess Vronsky, who sees her son's infatuation as interfering with his military career.
Vronsky prepares to enter a horse race with the other men of his regiment.
Before he goes to the racetrack, he visits Anna, who tells him that she is pregnant with his child.
During the race, Vronsky makes an error that trips up his horse, breaking its back. He is forced to kill the horse in order to put her out of her suffering.
Anna sees his disastrous fall and becomes noticeably anxious. Her husband sees the strength of Anna's reaction and confronts her once again with her feelings for Vronsky. This time, she confesses all, and Karenin asks her to maintain the appearances of their marriage even if she continues her affair with Vronsky.
Anna heads off to her family's country estate, where she and Vronsky continue their affair as Anna's pregnancy progresses.
Vronsky bumps into Karenin one day as he's leaving Anna's country home. This chance (humiliating) encounter prompts Karenin to ransack Anna's desk and find Vronsky's love letters to her. He's going to use these as the legal grounds for divorce from Anna.
Anna's birth is a difficult one and, believing that she's dying, she sends for Karenin. Vronsky is embarrassed when Karenin arrives and generously forgives both him and Anna for their affair.
Anna survives after all, and she and Vronsky now have a baby girl, Annie.
Humiliated by Karenin's generosity, Vronsky attempts to shoot himself. He is injured but does not die. Having tried to kill himself, Vronsky feels that some of his guilt in front of Karenin has passed away. Once he's recovered, he and Anna reunite to travel to Italy, so that Anna can recover her health.
After touring Europe, Anna and Vronsky return to Petersburg.
Vronsky begins carousing with old friends, but Anna is a social pariah. While Vronsky is enjoying herself, Anna is unable to reconnect with her former acquaintances because of the immorality of her current living conditions.
After a disastrous outing to the opera, where Anna was insulted to her face for her outsider social position, she and Vronsky head back out to the countryside.
The more Anna clings to Vronsky, the more he wants space to himself to hang out with his friends and pursue his interest in public affairs. He has no idea why she is being jealous and irrational.
Vronsky sees that he gave up his place in the army to travel with her, so she should be satisfied with what he has already sacrificed.
Anna and Vronsky relocate to Moscow and live there as a married couple (even though Anna still hasn't divorced Karenin).
Vronsky is increasingly avoiding Anna as her neurotic behavior gets increasingly worse. Anna sends him a note demanding that he come home, which he doesn't do. This is the last straw for Anna, and she kills herself at a train station.
After Anna's death, Vronsky is so caught up in despair that, for several weeks, he cannot function at all.
At Anna's funeral, Vronsky gives up his daughter, Annie, to Karenin.
Vronsky joins the volunteer soldiers heading to Serbia to fight against the Ottoman Empire on the side of the Slavs. He clearly does not expect to survive.