After Emma’s death, Charles and Berthe sink into greater and greater poverty. Everyone seems to want to get money out of poor Charles; Lheureux comes back for more, as does Emma’s fake piano teacher, Mademoiselle Lempereur (who already got paid once for her collaboration, anyway).
Charles refuses to sell any of Emma’s belongings; as a result, he fights with his mother and she leaves.
Félicité inherits all of Emma’s wardrobe, and seeing her in those dresses makes Charles even sadder. Soon enough, she runs off with Théodore, Monsieur Guillaumin's servant.
Léon, in the meanwhile, gets married and secures a post as a notary.
Wandering through the house one day, Charles discovers Emma and Rodolphe’s love letters. He is jealous, but still grieves intensely for Emma, regardless of her infidelity.
In honor of her memory, he squanders his money on things she would have liked – fancy clothes and moustache wax. To pay for these things, he signs more promissory notes and goes into greater debt.
Eventually, Charles has to sell everything and, after a while, all they have left is Emma’s bedroom, full of her possessions.
Berthe has nothing, and has nobody to care for her. Charles can’t manage to actually take care of her.
The Homais family breaks off their association with the Bovarys.
Monsieur Homais turns his attention to civic matters. He manages to get the blind beggar shipped off to an asylum.
This encourages him to expand his sphere of influence; the pharmacist goes on to write many more articles about local goings-on, and shifts his attention to writing a master work on his observations of Yonville. He also maintains his pharmacy, and keeps up with all the latest ridiculous developments.
Homais and Charles choose an extravagant design for Emma’s tombstone.
Charles tries to keep the memory of Emma alive, but she fades from his memory. Eventually everyone, even Father Bournisien, gives up on him.
Charles and his mother attempt to reconcile, but when she offers to take Berthe off his hands, they have a final decisive break.
Charles is consumed with jealousy for Homais, who seems to have everything he wants. That is, everything but the cross of the Legion of Honor. The pharmacist makes it his top priority to acquire this prize. He starts to suck up to the local authorities.
Finally, one day Charles discovers Léon’s love letters in Emma’s desk. Mad with fury, he rummages around everywhere and discovers a portrait of Rodolphe, as well.
Charles totally breaks off communication with the rest of the town. Everyone assumes that he’s a drunkard.
He occasionally visits Madame Lefrançois to talk about Emma, but she doesn’t have time for him.
Finally, Charles is forced to sell his horse, the last thing he has. At the market, he runs into Rodolphe. They awkwardly have a beer together. Rodolphe talks about other things to avoid any discussion of Emma.
In the end, Charles tells Rodolphe that he doesn’t blame the other man, claiming that only fate is responsible for Emma’s death.
Rodolphe thinks of Charles as a pitiful, weak, meek man.
The next day, Charles sits down in the garden. It’s a beautiful spring day, and he’s struck with emotion.
Berthe comes to fetch him for dinner – but he’s dead, the lock of Emma’s hair in his hand.
Berthe is sent away to live with her grandmother, who dies the same year. She’s then passed on to a poor aunt, who sends the child to work in a cotton mill.
Since Charles’s death, three different doctors have all moved to Yonville to take over his practice. None of them succeed, due to the machinations of Monsieur Homais.
Finally, the book closes as Monsieur Homais receives the cross of the Legion of Honor.