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When Arkady returns to his father Nikolai's home, Maryino, he brings with him a new friend – Bazarov.
Nikolai is pleased to meet him, but from the first he seems a bit stubborn and impolite.
As Arkady and his father ride back to the house, Arkady tells his father that Bazarov is brilliant, that he is training to be a doctor, and that he means a great deal to him.
At their first meal together, Bazarov is quiet. Yet, after the meal, when he and Arkady are alone, he makes fun of Arkady's Uncle Pavel, and he makes fun of Nikolai for being too romantic.
The next morning, Bazarov arises early and goes to the swamp looking for frogs for his scientific experiments.
Meanwhile, Arkady reveals to his father and Uncle Pavel that Bazarov is a nihilist, a man who takes no principle for granted. Pavel thinks it is a ludicrous and immature position.
When Bazarov returns, he and Pavel have a small argument. Bazarov speaks condescendingly to Arkady's uncle, and tells him that he only believes in what is useful.
Later, Arkady tells Bazarov his uncle's story, hoping to incite pity. Instead Bazarov mocks him for ruining his own life and then trying to give other people advice.
The next day, Bazarov sees Fenichka, the servant girl with whom Nikolai is having a relationship. He thinks her quiet beautiful, and he goes over to introduce himself and to play with her child, Mitya.
When he and Arkady are walking back to the house, he hears Nikolai playing the cello and laughs, thinking it absurd for an old man to waste his time playing instruments.
People gradually become used to Bazarov at Maryino. Yet one day Nikolai overhears Bazarov making fun of him. He worries about Bazarov's influence on his son and thinks that they are growing apart.
At lunch that day, Pavel decides to start an argument with Bazarov. He tells him that only a silly person can exist without principles, and Bazarov retorts, "In these days the most useful thing we can do is to repudiate – and so we repudiate" (10.58).
Both of them end up losing their tempers, and Bazarov is angry with himself for getting into an argument with a member of the gentry (wealthy landed class).
The next day, at Bazarov's suggestion, Arkady and Bazarov go to visit Arkady's wealthy relative, Matvei Ilyich Kolyazin, in town.
While there, Bazarov runs into an old acquaintance named Victor Sitnikov.
Sitnikov considers himself a disciple of Bazarov's, and insists on introducing him to Madame Kukshin, an older liberal lady that he thinks Bazarov will like very much. They go, but Bazarov is unimpressed and reveals that he doesn't care much about women's rights.
At the ball, Arkady meets a beautiful woman named Anna Sergeyevna Odintsov. Both Bazarov and Arkady are taken in by her charm and good looks, and she invites the two of them to her hotel, and to her estate at Nikolskoye.
At the hotel, Arkady is surprised to find that Bazarov talks much more than usual and that he is nervous in front of Anna Sergeyevna.
Afterward, though, he returns to boasting and says, "What a magnificent body! Shouldn't I like to see it on the dissecting-table!" (15.13,18).
When Arkady and Bazarov go to Nikolskoye, Bazarov and Anna Sergeyevna begin to become close friends, whereas Arkady has to hang out with her little sister, Katya.
Anna Sergeyevna cannot believe that Bazarov has no feeling for art, but she invites him to take her on walks and to teach her the Latin name for flowers. Arkady is jealous.
When a servant, Timofeich, comes from Bazarov's parent's home, Bazarov tells Anna Sergeyevna that he has to go visit his family. She is upset that he is leaving, and the two of them get into an intense discussion about how unsatisfied she is, and how she would like to fall in love but she can't.
Bazarov is frustrated with her because he thinks that she is being coy. He leaves abruptly.
The next night, however, she invites him in again under the pretext of telling him the name for a chemistry textbook she would like to read.
Bazarov, though furious with himself for doing so, confesses that he is madly in love with her. He makes a move to kiss her, but she rejects him and he is incredibly embarrassed.
The next day, he and Arkady leave for his parents' home.
As they ride over, Bazarov is melancholy. He tells Arkady that they have behaved like fools by letting themselves be drawn in by the clutches of the women at Nikolskoye.
Bazarov's father and mother, Vassily Ivanych and Arina Vlassyevna, are thrilled to see him. His mother falls weeping at his feet, and Arkady learns that this is the first time he has visited them in three years.
It is clear to Arkady that Bazarov's parents worship him, and his father does his best to stay educated and keep up with his son.
The next day, Arkady and Vassily Ivanych discuss Bazarov. They agree that he will be a great man, and Vassily Ivanych is ecstatic that Arkady has such a high opinion of his son.
Later, Arkady and Bazarov go and lie under a haystack. Bazarov is in a dark and cynical mood. He mocks everything, and calls Arkady weak and sentimental.
Arkady jokes that they will have a fight if he doesn't let up, but when he looks at Bazarov he sees real menace. The only thing that interrupts them is Vassily Ivanych, coming to sit with them.
After just three days, Bazarov announces that he is having a dull time and he must leave. His parents are grief-stricken, and to console them he promises that he will return soon.
On the road, Arkady talks Bazarov into stopping at Nikolskoye with him before returning to Maryino. It is a brief and awkward visit, but Anna Sergeyevna urges them to come back at another time.
At Maryino, Arkady finds a pretext for returning to Nikolskoye to visit Katya and Bazarov is left alone.
He works constantly, and cuts himself off from everyone, except for Fenichka. One day Pavel spies on the two of them in the arbour.
Bazarov is flirting with her, and eventually goes in for the kiss. At that moment, Pavel emerges from the bushes, embarrassing them both.
The next day, Pavel comes and proposes a duel to Bazarov. Bazarov takes it all as tongue and cheek, but his pride will not let him turn Pavel down.
They meet down by the copse, using Piotr as witness. Pavel fires first and misses, but when Bazarov shoots he hits Pavel in the thigh.
The duel ends early as Bazarov rushes over to treat Pavel. He finds it is not too serious, and, when Nikolai comes, the two of them lie about the reason for their fight, saying they fell out over English politics.
Pavel tries to be magnanimous (generous and good-spirited) with Bazarov, but Bazarov perceives it as pride and remains withdrawn until he leaves.
Meanwhile, at Nikolskoye, Katya and Arkady become very close, and Katya tells Arkady that she can see him coming out from under the shadow of Bazarov's influence.
Bazarov comes to see Arkady there and tells him what happened. At Arkady's insistence, he also goes to visit Anna Sergeyevna.
The two of them have a tense but companionable relationship, and agree that what took place between them earlier was silly. Bazarov reveals to Anna Sergeyevna that Arkady was in love with her when they first met.
He stays until Arkady proposes to Katya and leaves promptly after. Anna Sergeyevna is sad to see him go, but realizes that it is inevitable.
When Bazarov leaves Arkady, he has very few kind words for him. He tells Arkady that he lacks energy, and that the gentry (wealthy landed class) will only go so far in the name of revolution.
Arkady is sad that Bazarov has nothing nicer to say to him, but their parting is not bitter, and, shortly after, Arkady's happiness with Katya makes him forget Bazarov.
Bazarov returns home and begins helping his father treat the local peasants.
Vassily Ivanych is thrilled to have his son home and is very proud, but he worries that Bazarov seems melancholy and somehow defeated.
From time to time, Bazarov will go and banter with the local peasants. They think that he is strange and just enjoys hearing himself talk, but Bazarov's conceit never allows him to see how absurd he is in the peasants' eyes.
One day, Bazarov is in town and decides to help the local doctors do an autopsy on a man who recently died of typhus. In the process, he accidentally cuts himself.
When he returns home and reveals to Vassily Ivanych what happened, Vassily Ivanych is terrified. Bazarov is very calm about the entire thing, but it gradually becomes clear that he has contracted the fatal illness. He becomes feverish and bed-ridden.
His last wish is for his father to tell Anna Sergeyevna that he is dying.
Upon receiving the message, she immediately comes to visit him with a German doctor in tow.
Bazarov hardly lets her speak. He is partly delirious and goes on about how great he thought he was. Now the only trouble is how to die decently.
He realizes that though nihilists respected only what is useful, they themselves were of no good to Russian society.
His last wish is for Anna Sergeyevna to kiss him on his forehead. He says, "Breathe on the dying flame and let it go out..." (27.151).
After she leaves, he never regains full consciousness again. He dies that night.
The book closes with the image of his parents praying at his gravesite. The author thinks that no matter how stubborn and nihilistic Bazarov was, it is not possible that his parents pray in vain.