Tom stands outside Dorlcote Mill. Maggie has been gone for five days, and Bob Jakin has reported seeing her with Stephen at Mudport. Maggie arrives at the mill, looking worn and tired from her journey from York and the headache that kept her in bed there for over a day. Maggie approaches Tom to tell him everything, but Tom, looking at her face, knows that the worst has happened—his sister has returned unmarried and disgraced. He rejects her, "I wash my hands of you forever. You don't belong to me." He will not listen to Maggie's explanations. Maggie turns away to leave, and Mrs. Tulliver reaches out to her and offers to go with her. Tom gives his mother money, and Mrs. Tulliver gets her things.
Maggie takes them to Bob Jakin's. Bob takes them in with no questions, though he know has heard all the town rumors about Maggie and Stephen after he saw them at Mudport, and is perplexed at seeing Maggie now alone. Several days later, Bob comes into the sitting room where Maggie is and gives her to hold his new baby, who they have named after Maggie. Maggie asks Bob to go to Dr. Kenn's and ask him to come to Maggie while Mrs. Tulliver is out. Bob reports that Mrs. Kenn has just died and that he wouldn't like to approach Dr. Kenn so soon. Maggie agrees to wait several days. Bob finally gets the courage to ask Maggie if she has been wronged (by Stephen) in any way. Maggie, surprised, says no and smiles at Bob's vehement wish to "leather him till I couldn't see" in the event of Stephen's misconduct. Bob gets up with the baby but offers to leave Mumps the dog for company.
Soon all of St. Ogg's knows that Maggie has returned, without Stephen. If she had returned married, public opinion would have been sympathetic and welcoming. But, having returned unmarried, Maggie's conduct is seen in the worst light and even her very physical appearance is interpreted ungenerously. Stephen, however, is seen in a positive light—as having been under Maggie's spell, but now having got rid of her as soon as possible. The town knows of Stephen's letter, sent from Holland a week after Maggie's return, taking all the blame on himself, but the town interprets this as false but gallant on Stephen's part.
Maggie, meanwhile, takes little notice of the town gossip, being too occupied with anxiety about Stephen, Lucy, and Philip. Her "life stretched before her as one act of penitence."
Maggie has decided to eventually persuade Mrs. Tulliver to go back to live with Tom at the mill, while Maggie finds some way to earn a living. Mrs. Tulliver visits the Deanes' every day to check on Lucy, who has been feeble and bedridden since the news. Mrs. Tulliver can get no news of Philip. In desperate hopes of more news, Mrs. Tulliver visits Mrs. Glegg.
While Mrs. Tulliver visits Mrs. Glegg, Maggie leaves Bob's to walk to Dr. Kenn's. It is Maggie's first time out of doors, and she is met by nasty looks and insolent treatment. Maggie's pride is hurt, and it occurs to her for the first time that people may think she's done worse than just violate Lucy's confidence—they make think she's been compromised sexually.