Macondo prospers with the rise of the banana company and increased commerce. The Buendías settle into decline. Their household suffers increasing disruption and alienation from the town. Úrsula loses her eyesight, but she heroically compensates for its loss with her uncanny memory and sense of hearing. José Arcadio V is sent off to a seminary in Rome. (Remember that Úrsula believes that he can, and will, be Pope someday.) Aureliano Segundo moves in with Petra Cotes. A decadent materialism pervades the rest of the town; perhaps it is best symbolized in the eating contest between Aureliano Segundo and the bestial director of a school of voice, a woman called Camila Sagastume, "The Elephant." The eating contest serves as a parody of machismo and also as an example of supreme irony since in an effort not to lose a contest to a woman, Aureliano almost kills himself by overeating and does lose the contest. Fernanda sends Meme away, trying to conceal Aureliano's affair with Petra Cotes from Meme. But this only increases Fernanda's moral discomfort rather than lessen her sense of shame or loss. She succumbs to hysterical self-deceptions and a singing rage that lasts for two days. Solitude so pervades the life of the Colonel at this point that he dies, his forehead pulled in between his shoulders, like a baby chick, leaning against the chestnut tree that harbored old José Arcadio I, the Colonel's father. Fernanda, like the Colonel, is an alienated creature: she suffers the humiliation of infidelity, while the Colonel collapses from the futility of making and melting down goldfish.
The Colonel's death is typical of the novel's alternative rhythms and moods. But his death is also the signal for a major farce.
Meme returns from boarding school accompanied by four nuns and her entire class of sixty-eight girls. The Buendía household is thrown into chaos. Fernanda has to order seventy-two chamber pots to alleviate the nocturnal congestion in the bathroom. The author's hyperbole is punctuated by sharp drama: when Amaranta is salting the soup, one of the nuns asks Amaranta what ingredient she is adding to the soup, and she receives the reply: "Arsenic."
After graduating from the convent, Meme's education continues in the streets of Macondo, where contrary to village prejudice, she befriends Patricia Brown, the Yankee daughter of the banana company owner. Patricia Brown opens to Meme a world closed to many Latin American women. García Márquez makes the Anglo girl symbolize the independent, assertive cosmopolite, especially in her attitudes towards men. Meme takes up these modern, feminist, Protestant values. She throws discretion and class prejudices to the wind and begins an affair with the mechanic Mauricio Babilonia. Their liaison has an ominous consequence for the Buendía clan.
Tragedy is often saved from gross sentimentality by the author's profuse humor. When it seems that the aging Amaranta will never die, she is visited by Death and told to begin making her shroud. Like the proctor of a final exam, Death (a woman, dressed in blue, with long hair) instructs her to take all the time she needs, to make the pattern as fine and as complicated as she wants because she will die when it is completed. She finishes her shroud, then announces that she "is sailing at dusk, carrying the mail of death." Such black humor seems to crop up in the unlikeliest places. As another example, a guard shoots Mauricio Babilonia trying to climb through the tiles and get into Meme's bathroom. Instead of making his sexual rendezvous, however, the hapless mechanic is wounded and paralyzed from the waist down. He dies of old age in solitude, ostracized as a chicken thief.
No apparent stratagem eludes the author's satirical vision of the classic love tryst. Humor and hyperbole lend dramatic emphasis to commonplace events. And the ambiguous tragicomic effect is further enhanced by oxymoronic phrases. In her affair with Mauricio Babilonia, for instance, Meme is protected by the "innocent complicity" of her father, Aureliano Segundo. This buffoonery is also sharpened in descriptions of sexual passion. A frigid Fernanda rears little Amaranta Úrsula, while corresponding with invisible doctors and carrying pessaries in her petticoats for her sexual aches.