In an event called “the collapse,” a deadly flu epidemic sweeps the globe and kills most of the world’s population. The plot of Station Eleven revolves around a few main characters and offers glimpses into their lives both before the collapse and during the nineteen years that follow. Chapters often jump forward or backward in time, and shift focus and perspective from one character to another.

Arthur Leander is born on an island off the west coast of Canada. Dreaming of a more exciting life, he moves to Toronto, where he meets Clark Thompson, who becomes his closest friend. Arthur pursues an acting career, eventually becoming a very successful stage and screen actor. In Toronto, he meets a young woman named Miranda Carroll, an aspiring artist who grew up on the same island as Arthur. The two eventually marry.

Arthur and Miranda celebrate their third wedding anniversary with a dinner party at their Hollywood Hills home that Clark attends. During the party, Miranda realizes that she dislikes Arthur’s shallow movie-industry friends, and she also discovers that Arthur is romantically involved with Elizabeth Colton, one of the party guests. Elizabeth drinks too much and passes out on the couch, and the other guests go home. Miranda stays up late working on her comic book, Dr. Eleven. She goes outside and talks to one of the paparazzi stationed across the street. The man, Jeevan Chaudhary, takes an unflattering picture of her.

Jeevan does not like being a paparazzo and instead becomes an entertainment journalist. Later, Jeevan interviews Arthur Leander. After Miranda and Arthur divorce, Arthur marries Elizabeth Colton. Arthur and Elizabeth have a son, Tyler, but Arthur later divorces Elizabeth as well, marrying an actress named Lydia Marks. Elizabeth and Tyler move to Israel.

Years later, Arthur plays King Lear in a stage production in Toronto. Miranda visits him there and gives him two sets of the first two issues of Dr. Eleven. Arthur has decided that he wants to give up acting and move to Israel to live near his son Tyler. He sends one copy of Dr. Eleven to Tyler and gives the other to Kirsten Raymonde, an eight-year-old girl with a small role in the King Lear production. 

Jeevan, who has been training to be a paramedic in an attempt to do something meaningful with his life, attends King Lear in Toronto, excited to see Arthur Leander on stage. During the performance, Arthur has a heart attack and collapses, and Jeevan jumps onto the stage in an unsuccessful attempt to revive him. After Arthur’s sudden death on stage, Jeevan consoles Kirsten. Leaving the theater, Jeevan receives a call from a friend who is a doctor in a Toronto hospital. He tells Jeevan that the Georgia Flu has reached North America and is proving to be extremely virulent. Jeevan stocks up on food and supplies and goes to his paraplegic brother Frank’s apartment building. 

With a 99 percent mortality rate, the Georgia Flu kills much of the world’s population within a few weeks. This event becomes known as “the collapse.” Miranda dies on a beach in Malaysia, delirious with fever. Elizabeth and Tyler happen to be on the same plane as Clark—all three are traveling to Arthur’s funeral—when their plane is diverted to Severn City Airport. The airport is then closed, and most of the stranded passengers flee. Those remaining in the airport try to survive. Elizabeth believes that the Georgia Flu is a form of divine judgment and that she and Tyler have survived for a reason. Tyler’s behavior grows increasingly withdrawn and peculiar. Two years after the collapse, Elizabeth and Tyler leave the airport with a group of religious wanderers. Clark remains at the airport, and over the years he creates a Museum of Civilization in the airport that features artifacts from the time before the collapse.

Jeevan and Frank try to wait out the Georgia Flu in Frank’s apartment, but their supplies begin to dwindle. Frank worries that his disability is hurting Jeevan’s chances of survival, and he commits suicide so that Jeevan no longer has to care for him. Jeevan leaves the apartment and travels south, where he joins a settlement called McKinley and eventually marries and has two children. 

Kirsten Raymonde escapes Toronto with her older brother, and after her brother dies, she joins the Traveling Symphony, an orchestra that performs Shakespeare plays and diverse musical concerts for the settlements around the Great Lakes. Almost two decades after the collapse, Kirsten and the Symphony reach a town called St. Deborah by the Water. Since their last visit two years earlier, the town has been taken over by a religious zealot called “the Prophet.” The Traveling Symphony learns that the Prophet originally came from Severn City; unbeknownst to them, he is Arthur and Elizabeth’s son Tyler. The Symphony asks about Charlie and Jeremy, two members that they left behind on their prior visit. They learn that Charlie and Jeremy fled after the Prophet took over.

When the Traveling Symphony leaves the town, they find that a twelve-year-old girl, Eleanor, has snuck along with them as a stowaway. Some of the Prophet’s men pursue the Symphony to recover Eleanor because she is promised to the Prophet as his wife. Several members of the Symphony are captured by the Prophet’s men, and Kirsten and her friend August become separated. After killing some of the Prophet’s followers, Kirsten and August rescue one of the Symphony members. The Prophet eventually confronts Kirsten near Severn City, but he is killed by one of his own followers, a teenage boy who can no longer endure the terrible things that he has done while serving the Prophet. 

Kirsten and August reunite with the Charlie, Jeremy, and the Traveling Symphony at the Severn City Airport. Kirsten meets Clark and shares her two issues of Dr. Eleven with him. Through a telescope, Clark shows her a distant town to the south that has electricity. When the Traveling Symphony leaves, Clark is hopeful about the future of humanity.