The Narrator is anguished at Albertine's departure and absence. He dispatches Saint-Loup to convince her aunt Mme Bontemps to send her back, but Albertine insists the Narrator should ask, and she will gladly return. The Narrator lies and replies he is done with her, but she just agrees with him. He writes to her that he will marry Andrée, then hears from Saint-Loup of the failure of his mission to the aunt. Desperate, he begs Albertine to return, but receives word: she has died in a riding accident. He receives two last letters from her: one wishing him and Andrée well, and one asking if she can return. The Narrator plunges into suffering amid the many different memories of Albertine, intimately linked to all of his everyday sensations. He recalls a suspicious incident she told him of at Balbec, and asks Aime, the headwaiter, to investigate. He recalls their history together and his regrets, as well as love's randomness. Aime reports back: Albertine often engaged in affairs with girls at Balbec. The Narrator sends him to learn more, and he reports other liaisons with girls. The Narrator wishes he could have known the true Albertine, whom he would have accepted. He begins to grow accustomed to the idea of her death, despite constant reminders that renew his grief. Andrée admits her own lesbianism but denies being with Albertine. The Narrator knows he will forget Albertine, just as he has forgotten Gilberte.
He happens to meet Gilberte again; her mother Mme Swann became Mme de Forcheville and Gilberte is now part of high society, received by the Guermantes. The Narrator finally publishes an article in Le Figaro. Andrée visits him and confesses relations with Albertine and also explains the truth behind her departure: her aunt wanted her to marry another man. The Narrator finally visits Venice with his mother, which enthralls him in every aspect. They happen to see Norpois and Mme de Villeparisis there. A telegram signed from Albertine arrives, but the Narrator is indifferent and it is only a misprint anyway. Returning home, the Narrator and his mother receive surprising news: Gilberte will marry Saint-Loup, and Jupien's niece will be adopted by Charlus and then married to Legrandin's nephew, an invert. There is much discussion of these marriages among society. The Narrator visits Gilberte in her new home, and is shocked to learn of Saint-Loup's affair with Morel, among others. He despairs for their friendship.