Arkadina enters with Trigorin. Shamrayev compliments her outfit and youthful appearance. Trigorin pleases Masha by remembering her name. He hesitantly greets Treplev. Treplev is friendly to Trigorin and appreciates that Trigorin brings him a copy of the latest magazine in which a story of Treplev's is published. Trigorin says that Treplev is admired by many in Moscow and Petersburg and many people are curious about his identity, appearance, and personality because he publishes under a pseudonym. Trigorin asks Treplev whether the stage is still outside because he is working on a story about the stage and wants to confirm some details for an upcoming deadline.
Masha argues with Shamrayev to allow Medvedenko to use his horses to ride the four miles home. Shamrayev uses the excuse that the horses have just returned from the train station and need to rest to prevent Medvedenko from borrowing them to go home. Masha insists that Shamrayev has other horses. Shamrayev will not relent. Arkadina begins a game of lotto. She recalls her family's tradition of playing the game to pass the time. Treplev notices that Trigorin read his own story in the magazine but did not bother to read Treplev's.
Arkadina brags about the reception of a recent performance of hers and how nice the dress was that she wore. Treplev plays piano in the next room. Trigorin, Shamrayev, and Arkadina discuss Treplev's abstract writing and bad reviews. Trigorin and Arkadina do not express any sympathy for Treplev. Dorn disagrees and says he believes Treplev is on to something. They agree that Treplev's stories would be better if they were about ordinary people and if they had a point after the opening. Shamrayev tells Trigorin that he stuffed the seagull that Treplev shot for him. Trigorin does not remember asking Shamrayev to stuff and mount it. Arkadina calls everyone to dinner and asks Treplev to stop writing.
Treplev is left alone in his study. He looks over his writing and criticizes himself out loud for being a cliché. He compares his writing to Trigorin's with envy and despair. He hears a knock on the window. It is Nina. Nina enters the house paranoid about Arkadina finding her there and asks him to lock the door. Treplev props a chair against the door. Nina and Treplev admit to each other that they have looked for each other. Nina has been wandering around the property, and Treplev has gone to her hotel window. Nina's speech becomes fractured and confusing. She cuts off her own thoughts. She says she is "the Seagull" and compares herself to a homeless wanderer in a Turgenev story. She cries. She says she feels better because she has not cried in two years. Nina acknowledges that Treplev is now a writer, and she became an actress but her life is difficult. She thinks nostalgically about their youth and their youthful love.
Treplev professes his love to Nina and recounts his torment when she left him, how nothing he has accomplished felt good to him because she was not present to share his successes with him. Nina scolded Treplev for saying that he kissed the ground she walks on. She asks for a drink of water. Nina tells Treplev about her depression that began when she realized she was a bad actress. Her story breaks down into fragments. She repeats Trigorin's idea for a story about a girl who is destroyed like the seagull by a man who has nothing better to do. She concludes that what is important for an artist is not how successful you are, but that you persevere. Nina becomes weaker. Treplev asks her to stay. Nina asks about Trigorin. She confesses to Treplev that she still profoundly loves Trigorin. She remembers the innocence and hope she and Treplev felt the summer they put on their play. She recites lines from the play. Nina hugs Treplev and then runs out of the door.
Treplev covers his emotions and simply says out loud that his mother would be upset if she saw Nina in the garden. He then proceeds to tear up his manuscripts and throws them under his desk. Arkadina and the rest of the household come back from dinner and start a game of lotto. Dorn pushes in the door that Treplev propped closed with a chair. Shamrayev presents Trigorin with the stuffed seagull. Again, Trigorin says he doesn't remember asking for it at all. A shot goes off in a loud noise offstage. Arkadina becomes frightened. Dorn calms her down presenting the thought that the sound was probably only a popped cork in a bottle in his medicine bag. Arkadina feels relieved. Dorn goes to check on the sound and comes back to the group. He takes a magazine and brings Trigorin aside, pretending he is interested in discussing an article on America. Dorn tells Trigorin privately that he needs to get Irina Arkadina out of the house quickly because Treplev has shot himself. Arkadina does not hear Dorn's sad news before the play's end.
Nina's return acts as a sort of epilogue to the first three acts of the play. Her return does little to move the plot forward except, perhaps, to motivate Treplev's suicide at the end. Dramatically, her return can be a stunning scene. This is due in part by how much she has changed physically and emotionally since we last saw her and heard her speak. The scene is very challenging for a young actress. It is reminiscent of Ophelia's mad scene in Hamlet in which the sickness and hurt of a community is exposed and exemplified in the tortured mind of a ruined, young girl who speaks in language that at first glance seems like nonsense, but does indeed have sense and wisdom. Nina compares herself to the seagull Treplev shot and the seagull metaphor Trigorin created to describe Nina's fate because she now understands how Trigorin's story idea was also a prophesy that he fulfilled at her expense. At times, Nina speaks as if she were in a trance. She cuts herself off mid-sentence and in mid-thought. It is as if she is caught in the whirlwind of her life, which has changed dramatically in two years. Nina seems to be trying to decipher the cause and the meaning of her tragic fall. Since we last saw Nina, she has had her first love affair, with Trigorin, moved to Moscow, delivered a baby, buried the baby after it died, lost her lover Trigorin, and maintained a meager acting career.
Nina has had a hard time, but she is wiser from her failed experiences than Treplev is from his successes. She has no one in the world to help her through her hardship and poverty, and yet she still feels that her life has a purpose—to persevere. No longer does Nina believe in her quest for fame and adoration. Though Trigorin returned to his relationship with Arkadina, leaving Nina alone, Nina clings to the hope of her love for him rather than settling for Treplev's love out of convenience. She knows Trigorin is no longer attainable, but she loves him from afar anyway. The simple joy she felt when he was with her stays in her heart as a positive experience that carries her forward, though simultaneously, preventing her from living in the future. No longer the innocent, doting, curious, young girl from the previous acts, on the surface, Nina accepts her life as it is and does not wish for more. Through the fragmented parts of her speech, a deeper consciousness of which she is less aware, mourns her loss and rises to the surface in her weariness and tears.
Trigorin's story of a girl who falls tragically like the seagull at the hands of a man who has nothing better to do than destroy her has predicted Nina's fate, but it has not captured her spirit. Nina survives her lost innocence with headstrong fearlessness. She learns a lesson about herself and her life's calling, like so many of ours—to endure. Ironically, it is Treplev who, paralyzed by his inability to produce concrete work from his visions of creative thought, destroys himself because he cannot endure his lost love nor his lack of direction.