Maggie travels to her aunt, Mrs. Pullet's, where the Dodson family is having a party to celebrate Tom's reacquisition of the mill. The family chatters about who will donate what to Tom for his house and about the unsatisfactoriness of Maggie's returning to a governess job, when she might stay at one of her aunts' houses instead. When the party is over, Lucy has convinced Tom to drive her and Mrs. Tulliver home. Lucy sits up front with Tom and tells him about Philip's use of his influence to get Wakem to sell the mill. Lucy hopes that Tom will reverse his feelings toward Philip, but Tom refuses. All Lucy has accomplished is making Tom suspicious that Maggie will marry Philip.
Maggie returns for a final visit to the Deanes' before leaving for her new job. Stephen has felt compelled to dine at the Deane's to see Maggie as much as possible before she leaves. He takes interest in little else besides watching Maggie and singing. Maggie, too, is beginning to feel slightly selfish and allows for their nightly glances to each other.
One afternoon when Philip is visiting, Lucy invites him on a boatride with them the next day. Stephen bows out, claiming not to like such a large number of people in a boat, but Philip senses that Maggie is his reason for not coming. Philip agrees to row Maggie and Lucy the following morning. Later that evening, Philip observes a glance between Maggie and Stephen and sees Maggie quickly look guiltily to himself. Philip goes home feeling and stays awake feeling almost certain that Maggie and Stephen have feelings for each other.
In the morning, Philip has made himself too ill with jealousy to keep his date to row with Lucy and Maggie. He sends a note to Stephen saying he cannot go and asking Stephen to take his place. Meanwhile, Lucy has schemed to ride ahead to Lindum with her father to leave Philip and Maggie alone on the boatride. Maggie looks forward to a day spent with Philip's calmness.
When Stephen arrives, Maggie is flustered and explains that they cannot go. Stephen entreats Maggie to go, and Maggie submits. Stephen rows Maggie downriver, and Maggie feels she is in an "enchanted haze." Suddenly, Maggie realizes they have passed the meeting point with Lucy by a long way. Maggie begins to sob in fear, but Stephen calms her and asks her to run away with him to be married. He argues that they are passive actors in their own fate—despite all their avoidance, they have been thrust together today and the fate has pulled them away from St. Ogg's and Lucy. Maggie resists Stephen—he has put her in a difficult position on purpose. Stephen contends that he didn't notice how far they'd come until they passed Luckreth. He is hurt and offers to stop the boat and take the blame. Maggie is affected by this image of Stephen suffering. He moves next to her, and they float on in silence. Stephen takes her silence for yielding and rows on toward Torby.
A trading boat nears them, and Stephen suggests they get on it and ride to Mudport before it begins raining. Maggie is exhausted and feels that no decisions can be made today. Stephen feels he has triumphed and murmurs words of love to Maggie, about their life together. Maggie goes to sleep for the night on deck with Stephen watching over her.