The plot does not follow a chronological order as the narrator builds mystery and suspense around the funeral of old Miss Emily Grierson.
The townspeople have gathered for Miss Emily's funeral out of respect for a woman who belonged to a long line of an aristrocratic family, and out of curiosity for her reclusive and eccentric lifestyle.
To show the community's respect for Miss Emily, the narrator tells a story about the mayor who remitted her taxes indefinitely after her father's death. However, after this unwritten arrangement ended, and the new sheriff tried to collect the taxes, Miss Emily refused to pay them, asking the town officials to speak to Colonel Sartoris. The fact that Colonel Sartoris had been dead ten years hints at Miss Emily's unstable mental condition.
The story flashes back to a time of Miss Emily's father's death, and of her sweetheart's departure two years after that.
Two years after her father died, people complained to the mayor about an unpleasant odor coming from Miss Emily's house. The mayor did not want to offend Miss Emily. Instead, of confronting her directly, the mayor arranged that a few men secretly spread lyme around her house at night.
Emily's unstable mental condition is hinted at once more by recounting the time when people came to express condolences for her father's death, but Miss Emily replied that her father was not dead. Days later, the townspeople had to force their way in to dispose of the dead body.
Two years after her father's death, Miss Emily begins to date Homer Barron, a foreman in charge of paving the sidewalks. Gossip spreads around town because Miss Emily stoops beneath her class to date a laborer and a Yankee. The town pities her when they find out that she bought rat poison.
Gossip continues about Miss Emily's relationship with Homer Barron. People disapprove of their prolonged dating out of wedlock. Miss Emily was seen buying gifts for a man of an intimate nature: a nightshirt, silver engraved toilet set, a full outfit of men's clothing. People speculate that the couple will be secretly married. However, shortly after, Homer was not seen again. May years pass by, and the only person who goes in or our Miss Emily's house is her servant. She lived, alone, grew old, and died in her bed.
The story returns to the present funeral occasion. After the burial, two of Emily's cousins and town officials open a room upstairs that had been shut for forty years. This is the climactic moment of the story. The room is dark, covered with a thick layer of dust. The silver engraved toilet set, a collar and tie laid on the dressing table, neatly folded man's suit and beneath shoes and socks--eeryie reminders of the wedding gifts bought many years before for the husband who was not to be.
The visitors approach the bed, where they discover a skeleton that had lain there for many years in the shape of an embrace, and on the pillow next to the skeleton, they observe an indentation with a long strand of iron-gray hair--distinctly Miss Emily's.