This longest chapter of the novel provides the climax of the plot. It opens in the Buchanans' house and serves as a flashback to a similar scene that occurred three months earlier in the first chapter. Appropriately, it is almost the last day of summer and the hottest day of the year; this setting serves as a foreshadowing of the tragic events that are to occur within the chapter.
Daisy and Jordan, as always, are dressed in white and lounging on the sofa, trying to stay cool. Once again, Tom is called away to the telephone. Wilson is on the other end, and the two men argue about the car that Wilson wants to buy from Tom. All of these repeated actions, which are flashbacks to earlier events, clearly indicate that nothing has changed for Tom and Daisy; their lives go on in the same meaningless manner. It is appropriate that Gatsby says Daisy's voice is full of money, for her wealth is the only thing that characterizes her; she is and will always be a symbol of the golden girl, shallow and rich. It is only Gatsby's world that has changed. Nick opens the chapter by saying that Gatsby's career as Trimalchio is over. In reality, he is still a Trimalchio, a vulgar character whose lack of class is reflected in his ostentatious display of wealth. It is just that Gatsby no longer feels the need to make a career of showing off his money. He no longer has to give his extravagant parties to attract Daisy's attention, for she is now part of his life.
Nick never makes it clear to what extent Daisy and Gatsby are involved, but it really does not matter; Gatsby feels that he has found his dream. He does say that Daisy often visits his house in the afternoon, and it is obvious that she is familiar with him, for she gives him a kiss on the mouth as soon as Tom leaves the room to take the phone call. She also says that she loves him, but it is uttered casually and lacks sincerity. For Daisy, her attachment to the vulgar Gatsby is a game, a fleeting entertainment. Tom, however, cannot miss the fact that something is going on between his wife and Gatsby. He explodes at the realization, especially when he figures out that Nick and Jordan have known about the relationship all along.
On this day, Daisy is bored. In spite of her wealth, she has no personal depth and no way of entertaining herself. Her life is so empty that she wonders out loud what she will do for the next thirty years. Tom is no better. Like his wife, he plays at life, racing horses and cars and having petty sexual relationships. At the moment, the two of them are at loggerheads. Daisy wants to go into the city to break the boredom and escape the heat; Tom at first refuses. Then, all of a sudden, he agrees to her suggestion after he has realized that there is something going on between Daisy and Gatsby. It is obvious that Tom has something up his sleeve.
Tom is used to having his way, and this afternoon he wants to drive Gatsby's car. When Gatsby's hesitates, Tom insists; it is almost like he wants to prove that he has power over Gatsby. Finally, Gatsby and Daisy leave in Tom's car, with Tom, Jordan, and Nick leaving in Gatsby's yellow automobile. In the Valley of Ashes, the ever cautious Nick reminds Tom that he needs to stop for gasoline. Tom impatiently turns into Wilson's garage. Wilson, looking pale and sick, apologizes to Tom for the phone call. He then explains that he needs money, for he and his wife are moving to the West in a couple of days. Tom can hardly believe his ears. It is the second shock that he has had on this hot and torrid afternoon. This man, who always wants to be in control, realizes he is losing both his wife and his mistress. It is almost more than Tom can bear. In his own way, he is as panicked as Wilson; it is also ironic that these two men, at opposite ends of the social scale, find themselves in the same situation - betrayed by their wives and fearful of losing them forever.
Locked away upstairs, Myrtle looks down and sees the yellow automobile. She then spies Tom, the man she loves. When she sees Jordan, she wrongly assumes she is Tom's wife; her jealousy is almost unbearable. She watches as her lover pulls away, knowing she may never see him again.
Tom steps on the gas to catch up with Daisy and Gatsby. They all agree to meet in front of the Plaza Hotel, where they will rent a suite. It is significant that the climax will occur on neutral ground, rather than in the home of Daisy or Gatsby. Inside the room, the air is filled with tension as Tom worries about his marriage being in jeopardy; ironically, the Wedding March plays in the background. It does not take Tom long to attack Gatsby. He begins by questioning whether he is an Oxford man and then revealing that his wealth comes from bootlegging and other illegal activities. Tom is so brutal that Daisy comes to Gatsby's defense. Tom then says he is not going to stand by while some Mr. Nobody tries to steal his wife. Daisy interrupts and begs to go home. She does not want to be forced into making a decision; she wants to continue the duality of being Tom's wife and Gatsby's lover. It is a fun game for her that breaks the boredom of her existence.
Gatsby cannot stand quietly by and let his dream slip away. He tells Tom that Daisy has always loved him and never loved Tom. He claims Daisy only married Tom because as a soldier, he was too poor to support her in the style to which she was accustomed. Gatsby then turns to Daisy and insists that she tell her husband that she loves only him; he also insists that she say that she never loved Tom. Even though Daisy utters the words, it is apparent there is no truthfulness in them. When Tom brings up memories from the last four years of their married life, Daisy breaks down. She turns to Gatsby and says, I love you now. Isn't that enough? For Gatsby it is not enough; his dream insists that she blot out the years of separation. When she refuses to do so, Tom wins the battle, and his wife. Daisy is lost to Gatsby forever. Tom, knowing he has won, sends Daisy and Gatsby off together; he has nothing to fear.
Immediately after the hotel scene, Nick remembers that it is his thirtieth birthday. This is significant, for this day is a turning point in Nick's life, as well as Gatsby's life; and his thirtieth birthday marks his passage into full adulthood, when the carefree days of youth are behind forever. Appropriately, from this day forward Nick will judge the Buchanan's and Jordan as unworthy and vulgar, in spite of their wealth; subconsciously, he has already made the decision to leave the crazy shallowness of the East and return to the solid roots of the Midwest, where he grew up.
The falling action begins with the trip home to the Eggs. Daisy, in order to calm herself down, requests to drive Gatsby's car. When Myrtle spies the yellow automobile, she assumes that Tom is inside. She bolts out of the garage, waving her arms to stop her lover. Daisy does not see the woman until it is too late. She tries to veer away, but there is an oncoming car. She jerks the wheel back, hitting Myrtle and killing her instantly. With characteristic shallowness, she does not stop, but pushes the accelerator harder. Gatsby begs her to stop and finally uses the emergency break to halt the vehicle. He immediately knows that he will take the blame for Daisy, claiming to be driving the car himself.
When Tom arrives at the accident scene, he stops his car to see what is going on. When he realizes that Myrtle has been killed, he is in a state of shock. When he learns that it is a new yellow car that has killed her, he is beside himself with rage, thinking that Gatsby is the murderer of his mistress and the lover of his wife. He openly states that he cannot believe that the son-of-a-bitch did not even stop. He then tries to convince Wilson that the yellow car he was driving earlier in the day does not belong to him. As always, both Tom and Daisy think only of themselves.
Nick is shaken by the events of the day. The scene in the hotel has had a deep impact on him. Now the sight of Myrtle's lifeless body and the sound of Wilson's wailing is almost more than he can bear. He instinctively knows that this day will make a difference in his life; therefore, he cannot understand how Jordan can be so unaffected by everything that has transpired. She casually asks him to take her out to dinner, reminding him it is only half past nine. Suddenly, Nick realizes that he could never spend the rest of his life with Jordan.
When Nick arrives at the Buchanan's, he is a changed man; he wants nothing more to do with these frivolous people. He even refuses to go inside the house, as if some of the sickness that resides there may rub off on him. When he walks down the driveway to wait for his taxi, he encounters Gatsby, who emerges from the bushes. When Nick questions him about the accident, he admits that Daisy was driving the car and refused to stop. This news only confirms what Nick has already decided; the Buchanan's and their world are simply too shallow, selfish, and careless for him. As if to prove his point, he goes up on the porch to see what is going on inside so that he can reassure Gatsby that Daisy is safe. Tom and his wife are in the kitchen. Two ales and a platter of cold chicken are before them. Neither happy or unhappy, it is obvious that they are conspiring together to cover up the truth of the accident. The scene literally makes Nick feel sick.
When he goes back to Gatsby to tell him that everything is calm inside, Nick asks him to come home with him. Gatsby refuses; he will keep his vigil until he is certain that Daisy is safely in bed. When Nick leaves, Gatsby is standing alone watching over nothing. He has lost Daisy and his dream.