After surrendering to the government, the Colonel declines a pension and retires to his occupation of manufacturing little metal goldfishes and writing poetry. Later, when Macondo is subjected to the exploitation of an American-owned banana company, and when the government reneges on its promise of pensions to his former comrades, the Colonel is outraged and tries unsuccessfully to foment another rebellion. Once again, he is left to making goldfish, but this time, the humiliation of defeat is no longer disguised. He dies, urinating in his backyard, alienated and alone in the solitude of other heroes whom their country has forgotten.
For a while, the Colonel's presence continues in the form of a street that bears his name. His seventeen sons, after being indelibly stained with pre-Lenten ash crosses, are systematically shot through the forehead. The last to die, Aureliano Amador, manages to survive into the final scenes of the novel, but he too meets the same fate. The assassinations of the Colonel's sons highlight the incredible survival capacity of the Colonel. He escapes fourteen attempts on his life, seventy-three ambushes, a firing squad, a lethal dose of strychnine, and attempted suicide. Unlike José Arcadio Buendía I, his father, who continues in the novel after death as a ghost whom only Úrsula sees, the Colonel fades away into memory. His presence is felt later, however, when we are told that the last adult Buendía, Aureliano Babilonia, physically resembles him; and he becomes, as it were, the Colonel when he steps into a zoological brothel operated by a madam, Pilar Ternera, who is one hundred and forty-five years old.
Aureliano's contemporary and friend, Gabriel Márquez, is the grandson of Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, and the latter also remembers the Colonel because of his own grandfather. By then, the street named after Colonel Aureliano Buendía has disappeared. Only one photograph was ever taken of him, the daguerreotype of the Buendías. The Colonel survives more as legend than history when the last Buendía dies and Macondo is swept away in a hurricane.
Earlier, at the death of the Colonel, Macondo had already been battered to the point of collapse. His heroism and grand compassion, in fact, have made no real difference to the town. His tragedy is that he was destined to cause the death and suffering of people whom he wanted most to save. Ultimately, his battles and even his existence have no meaning. By the end of the novel, the street that bears his name has disappeared. The only photograph ever taken of him — the Buendía family daguerreotype — has also by then almost faded away. Thus his solitude becomes an almost retrospective future, a cyclical fate. Through his character there is the suggestion of an unresolved action that cannot be completed. He is charmed, as it were, against violent death, but not, as critic Michael Wood observed, dying (Columbia Forum, Summer 1970, Vol. XIII, N. 2). When he dies, his memory is only just a memory. Nothing ends for any of the characters, in fact, except life itself. The Colonel lives on as a memory in the memories of Aureliano, his friend Gabriel Márquez, and Pilar Ternera.
The Colonel's mythical life serves as an escape from the inevitable harsh and tragic fate that he meets. But his saga renders an enduring spirit of adventure which pervades the Buendía clan, constantly invoked by recurring devices and patterns. Besides genealogy, there is repetitious memory, as witnessed in the same names — generation after generation. The José Arcadios are brash, impulsive, and lusty; the Aurelianos are reclusive, lucid, and solitary. The women are, like Úrsula, either strong and waspish, or, like Remedios, frail and sensuous.