A furious storm overtakes Candide’s ship on its way to Lisbon. Jacques tries to save a sailor who has almost fallen overboard. He saves the sailor but falls overboard himself, and the sailor does nothing to help him. The ship sinks, and Pangloss, Candide, and the sailor are the only survivors. They reach shore and walk toward Lisbon.
Lisbon has just experienced a terrible earthquake and is in ruins. The sailor finds some money in the ruins and promptly gets drunk and pays a woman for sex. Meanwhile the groans of dying and buried victims rise from the ruins. Pangloss and Candide help the wounded, and Pangloss comforts the victims by telling them the earthquake is for the best. One of the officers of the Inquisition accuses Pangloss of heresy because an optimist cannot possibly believe in original sin. The fall and punishment of man, the Catholic Inquisitor claims, prove that everything is not for the best. Through some rather twisted logic, Pangloss attempts to defend his theory.
The Portuguese authorities decide to burn a few people alive to prevent future earthquakes. They choose one man because he has married his godmother, and two others because they have refused to eat bacon (thus presumably revealing themselves to be Jewish). The authorities hang Pangloss for his opinions and publicly flog Candide for “listening with an air of approval.” When another earthquake occurs later the same day, Candide finds himself doubting that this is the best of all possible worlds.
Just then an old woman approaches Candide, treats his wounds, gives him new clothes, and feeds him. After two days, she leads him to a house in the country to meet his real benefactor, Cunégonde.
Cunégonde explains to Candide that the Bulgars have killed her family. After executing a soldier whom he found raping Cunégonde, a Bulgar captain took Cunégonde as his mistress and later sold her to a Jew, Don Issachar. After seeing her at Mass, the Grand Inquisitor wanted to buy her from Don Issachar; when Don Issachar refused, the Grand Inquisitor threatened him with auto-da-fé (burning alive). The two agreed to share Cunégonde; the Grand Inquisitor would have her four days a week, Don Issachar the other three. Cunégonde was present to see Pangloss hanged and Candide whipped, the horror of which made her doubt Pangloss’s teachings. Cunégonde told the old woman, her servant, to care for Candide and bring him to her.
Don Issachar arrives to find Cunégonde and Candide alone together, and attacks Candide in a jealous rage. Candide kills Don Issachar with a sword given to him by the old woman. The Grand Inquisitor arrives to enjoy his allotted time with Cunégonde and is surprised to find Candide. Candide kills him. Cunégonde gathers her jewels and three horses from the stable and flees with Candide and the old woman. The Holy Brotherhood gives the Grand Inquisitor a grand burial, but throws Don Issachar’s body on a dunghill.