An obsessive, impassioned sex addict, Florentino falls in love with Fermina Daza on sight and waits more than half a century for her husband to die so that he may reaffirm his love for her. During the half century that passes, he has countless sexual liaisons with other women, despite his insistence that he remains a virgin for Fermina. He takes pleasure in the pain of unrequited love, and dedicates his life to earning enough money and status to be worthy of Fermina. He is hired by his uncle, Don Leo XII Loayza. to work at the River Company of the Caribbean, of which he eventually becomes the President. He is incapable of writing any kind of letter but a poetic statement of love, and writes love letters for passersby in the Arcade of the Scribes, the city marketplace.
The wife of Dr. Juvenal Urbino and the object of Florentino's affection, Fermina is a sophisticated woman who, having grown up a peasant, takes pride in her haughty manner and unrelenting stubbornness; she cannot ever bear to admit that she is wrong. She is raised by her father, Lorenzo Daza, and her Aunt Escolástica after her mother dies when she is merely ten years old. Forced to attend and later expelled form a religious academy, she harbors an enduring disgust for Religion and the Church. She has a weakness for flowers, animals, and cigarettes.
The City of the Viceroy's most educated doctor and most esteemed public figure, Urbino is an old-fashioned man, and still makes house calls to his patients. He is married to Fermina Daza for over fifty years, though he tarnishes their stable marriage with a brief affair for which he is deeply remorseful. He is an aristocratic, relatively unemotional man who enjoys chess and revels in regularity. He suffers a fatal fall from a mango tree when he tries to recapture his escaped, beloved parrot.
Florentino's doting mother, Transito is the one person he ever divulges his secret passion for Fermina to. She takes pains to prepare for Florentino's marriage to Fermina, but soon turns senile, and dies.
Fermina's domineering father who pays cash for his home and is rumored to be a thief and a swindler. After finding Fermina's stash of love letters, he cruelly banishes his sister, Aunt Escolástica, who is financially dependent upon him, and sends Fermina on a years-long journey so that she will erase all memories of Florentino. He encourages Dr. Urbino to court his daughter, greedy for the Doctor's wealth and prestige. When it is uncovered that he is a thief, he flees the city with Dr. Urbino's help.
Escolástica helps raise Fermina, her niece, after the girl's mother dies. She is more of a friend than an aunt, and brazenly helps Fermina communicate in secret with Florentino. When Lorenzo Daza, her brother, discovers that she has been assisting Fermina in her affair, he banishes her from his house, though she owns not a cent, and when Fermina tries to contact her, she learns that she is dead.
Fermina's older cousin and best friend who also suffers from a tormented love affair. Hildebranda feels more sympathy for Florentino's situation than she does her cousin's. She helps Florentino and Fermina communicate via secret telegrams while Fermina is away on her years-long journey. Fermina stays at her ranch when she needs refuge from her cheating husband, Dr. Urbino.
The German telegraph operator who acts as a father figure to Florentino. He gives Florentino violin lessons and initiates his loss of innocence when, after leaving the telegraph office to own and manage a transient hotel, kindly gives Florentino a room free of charge. He enjoys a fast life, drinking in the taverns and sleeping with the "birds" (prostitutes) who live at the hotel.
Mother of Dr. Juvenal Urbino, she proves the bane of Fermina Daza's existence. She forces Fermina, her daughter-in-law, to take harp lessons and to eat eggplant, both of which Fermina detests. She dies while Dr. Urbino and Fermina are in Europe.
Florentino's paternal uncle and the President of the River Company of the Caribbean, he makes a habit of singing at funerals, and is most saddened when he cannot sing at his own. Upon Transito's request, he finds Florentino a job in a faraway city to help him erase Fermina from his memory. When Florentino returns, he grants him yet another job at the River Company. He urges Florentino to marry Leona Cassiani, and when he is too ill to continue running the River Company, he bequeaths it to Florentino.
A determined, intelligent black woman who Florentino meets on the Trolley and mistakes for a whore. She asks him for employment, not sex, and he finds her work at the Riverboat Company in the most menial position available. She impresses Leo, the Company President, with her ideas, and he promotes her to the position of his personal assistant. She moves through the company, but out of courtesy, will not take a position higher than Florentino's. She is arguably Florentino's true love, for she nurtures his career and cares for him in his old age. Florentino calls her the "lionlady of [his] soul," and Leo, "[his] namesake Leona."
The young woman who travels aboard the ship to Villa de Leyva with two other women, presumably her mother and sister, and carries her baby in a bird cage. Florentino is convinced that it is she who, one night, seizes him, drags him into her cabin, and robs him of his virginity. It is Florentino's encounter with her that instigates his sexual promiscuity, and his belief that he can relieve his desire for Fermina by having sex with many other women.
The woman with whom Florentino experiences his second sexual encounter, and who is forever grateful to him for "making her a whore."
They older, widowed woman with whom Florentino conducts a seven-year affair. He is more attracted to her beautiful house than he is to her, and visits her less after her lover, in an act of revenge, steals her every belonging.
An older woman who Florentino meets at a poetry festival and with whom he conducts a long-term affair. She is the only other woman, besides Fermina, to ever reject him.
Another of Florentino's lovers, she keeps carrier pigeons, and after months of dismissing Florentino's advances, she succumbs. After the first and only time she and Florentino have sex, her husband slits her throat, having seen the message Florentino had written on her belly.
The woman who has a four-month affair with Dr. Juvenal Urbino. She is the daughter of a Reverend, and will not allow the Doctor to completely undress her.
Twice widowed, she is another of Florentino's lovers. Intuitive and direct, she comforts Florentino after Fermina rejects him for a second time.
The fourteen year-old girl who is entrusted to Florentino by her parents, and whom he seduces despite his old age. When he ends the affair abruptly, without giving her a reason, she commits suicide.
Fermina Daza's mother. She dies when Fermina is six years old.
The cunning twelve-year-old boy who Florentino hires to dive for the treasure of the galleon. He deceives Florentino by recovering only treasure he has planted himself.
A children's photographer and Dr. Urbino's only worthy competitor at chess. The novel begins with his suicide; he kills himself because he refuses to grow old.
A physician and son of Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino.
The miserable daughter of Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Fermina banishes her from her home when she protests her mother's courtship with Florentino, and declares that love between elderly people is "disgusting."
Fermina's close friend. She is too ashamed ever to speak to Fermina again after a tabloid press fabricates a story that she and Dr. Juvenal Urbino had had an affair.