As she approaches La Huchette, Emma wonders what she can possibly say to her former lover.
She finds Rodolphe in his room, smoking a pipe and sitting by the fire.
Emma feebly attempts to win Rodolphe back, telling him that they can be together again. She looks beautiful in her despair, and he’s actually moved – he kisses her and tells her she’s the only woman for him.
However, Emma picks this moment to confess everything, thinking that she’s in the clear – she lies about how the money was lost, making it look like it’s not her fault. She begs him for three thousand francs.
Rodolphe is repelled by this outpouring of demands – he realizes that she only came to him for his money. He tells her honestly that he doesn’t even have it.
Rodolphe, despite his flaws, isn’t a totally evil man. He would have given her the cash if he actually had it – however, he really doesn’t.
Emma doesn’t believe this; she assumes that he never loved her, and that he’s just holding out on her now. She flips out on him, accusing him of lying to her about his money. She uses his extravagant belongings as proof, and screams at him for everything he’s ever done to her.
Rodolphe asserts once again that he doesn’t have the money. Emma, furious and desperate, leaves.
It’s nighttime; Emma’s twenty-four hours are far past up, and she has nothing to give to Lheureux. On her way home, she stops at the pharmacy.
The Homais family is having dinner, but she doesn’t want to see them. The one she wants is Justin – she convinces him to give her the key to the poison cabinet upstairs, supposedly so she can kill some rats.
Justin is awed by her beauty, and even though he feels something bad coming, he gives in. As soon as they get to the depository, she rushes to the bottle of arsenic that Homais pointed out on jam-making day so long ago, and begins to eat the white powder.
Justin is totally freaked out, as he should be. He tries to stop her, but she threatens him, saying that everyone will think it’s Homais’s fault if he says anything.
After ingesting the poison, Emma goes home, strangely satisfied.
Charles is a complete mess. He doesn’t understand what’s going on at all – where could all this mysterious debt possibly come from? He goes out in search of Emma, and when he gets back, she’s home already. He asks her brokenly what has happened.
In response, Emma writes a letter and asks him to open it the next day. She goes to bed without another word.
Emma observes her body’s reaction with a detached calmness for a while – she assumes that she’ll just go to sleep and not wake up.
Death by arsenic, however, is not that easy. She awakens with an awful inky taste in her mouth, and is suddenly convulsed with nausea. The poison kicks in, and believe us, it’s not pretty.
At eight o’clock, Emma starts to vomit. Charles is confused by some of the symptoms, and can’t tell what’s wrong with her.
Emma is wracked with violent convulsions. In Charles’s terrified eyes, she finally sees the true love that she’s never seen before – but it’s too late.
Charles desperately reads the letter and goes mad with desperation. Suddenly everyone knows that Emma has been poisoned; Homais sends Justin to fetch Doctors Canivet and Larivière.
Everyone is freaking out. Homais tries his best to reason through what they should do, and Charles is useless.
Emma finally realizes that Charles loved her all along, and she tries to soothe him – this only makes his grief worse.
Berthe is brought in, tired and confused; the child thinks it’s New Year’s, the only time she’s ever allowed to be up late, and expects presents. Soon, though, Berthe is terrified by her mother’s horrible appearance, and is taken away.
The symptoms seem to stop for a while, and Charles calms down, hoping that Emma will pull through.
Canivet arrives, and decisively declares that Emma’s stomach must be emptied. They give her a medication to induce vomiting.
This turns out to be the wrong decision. Emma starts vomiting blood, and she begins to scream horribly. Everyone, even Monsieur Canivet, is horrified.
Finally, Dr. Larivière arrives. With him comes a new infusion of hope – he’s famous for his knowledge and skill, and everyone looks up to him.
After seeing Emma, however, even Larivière is grim. Though he’s used to seeing people in misery, he can’t help but tear up at the sight of the distressed family. He tells Charles that there’s nothing to be done.
Homais, despite his grief, pulls it together enough to invite Dr. Larivière and Monsieur Canivet to lunch. Madame Homais quickly whips up the most extravagant meal she can find.
Over several courses, Homais describes what he thinks happened to Emma. Nobody can figure out how she poisoned herself; Justin, overhearing this and undoubtedly feeling incredibly guilty, drops a stack of plates.
Homais’s pride soon consumes any residual concern he might have for poor Charles and Emma. He boastfully goes on an on about his knowledge of poisons and illnesses.
Homais forces Dr. Larivière to check out all of his children to make sure they’re in good health. Larivière, irritated, makes a snide joke about Homais, and attempts to leave. However, everyone else in the town had a similar idea; they mob the doctor, seeking his opinion on their various physical conditions.
Larivière rolls off in his coach without seeing Emma again (he urges Canivet to stay with her), and the townspeople agree on the whole that the famous surgeon was pretty useless.
Next, Father Bournisien shows up to administer the Last Rites to Emma before she dies. Homais goes with him, despite his cynicism about religion.
Charles has one last moment of hope – it looks as though Emma is better after she receives the priest’s blessing. However, this is just the calm before the storm.
Suddenly, Emma is seized with a terrible convulsion, and her whole body is wracked with agony.
From outside, the grating sound of the blind beggar’s voice singing a crude song drifts in.
Emma cries out, "The blind man!" and laughs hideously (III.8.110).