Charles tells Berthe, his little daughter, that her maman is away on a trip. Berthe eventually forgets all about her mother. She is quite a happy child. Her cheerfulness is difficult for Charles, but he loves Berthe dearly.
As if the debt Emma accrued with Monsieur Lheureux were not enough by itself, Charles is forced to pay for piano lessons Emma never took and for mysterious letters whose purpose he cannot fathom. As more and more bills appear, Charles tries to collect medical payments from several of his patients—but he discovers that Emma already did this. Eventually, he simply borrows more money to pay the debts. He sells most of his possessions and sinks into poverty.
As Charles loses everything, Monsieur Homais enters a better time in his life. As he climbs the social ladder, he avoids anyone who might get in his way. His friendship with Charles wanes because he feels that Charles is descending to a lower status. He even encourages his children to avoid playing with little Berthe.
For a long while, Charles holds dear everything that reminds him of Emma. He cultivates an interest in the fashions she liked, and he keeps as many of her possessions as he can. His daughter looks much like her mother, and he cherishes her for it—although he is sad to see her looking unhealthy and wearing ragged clothes.
Shortly after Emma’s death, Charles finds Rodolphe’s parting letter to her. At first he convinces himself that the relationship was a platonic one. However, months later, he finds the rest of Emma’s correspondence—and he is forced to face the fact that Emma committed adultery with two different men.
One day, Charles meets Rodolphe in the street, and the two men sit down to drink a beer together. Rodolphe is chagrined when he learns that Charles knows about the affair. Privately, Charles realizes that he never could have been the kind of man his wife loved. “I don’t hold it against you,” he says to Rodolphe. After this conversation, he goes home, sits in the garden, and dies. His daughter is sent to live first with his mother and then with a poor aunt who makes her work for a living.
The final paragraph of Madame Bovary focuses not on Emma or Charles Bovary, but on Monsieur Homais, whose life provides a contrast to the Bovarys' downfall. After Charles's death, Monsieur Homais gains social importance and even wins a social distinction called the cross of the Legion of Honor.