Ryan Atwood, a teen from the wrong side of the tracks, moves in with a wealthy family willing to give him a chance. But Ryan's arrival disturbs the status quo of the affluent, privileged community of Newport Beach, California.
Seth works at a comic book store in Newport. Kirsten drops by the store to ask Seth if he has something to send Ryan in a "care package" she is preparing. Later, Seth tries to talk Ryan into coming to dinner at the Cohens' but the latter isn't easily persuaded, saying he works nights, etc. At her dorm, Summer and a friend named Che try to rally students for a protest. Summer gets a phone call from Taylor who seems to be in Paris.
Ryan and Seth go to Mexico to find Volchok, but Seth secretly phones home worried about what Ryan might do if they find him. A distraught Sandy and Kirsten decide to go after the boys and try to stop Ryan before he does something he might regret. Meanwhile, Julie and Kaitlin are forced to participate in a clothing drive at the school, and Summer and her hippie friends try to save a tree.
It's Thanksgiving time. Volchok is back in town and Ryan seems eager to take revenge. At first Sandy and Kirsten try to talk him out of this but, then, Sandy makes Ryan face Volchok. Julie's behavior turns Kaitlin away and permanently jeopardizes her relationship with Dr. Roberts. Summer starts protesting against poverty issues and turns the Cohens' Thanksgiving dinner into a homelesses' refuge. It's clear she hasn't got over Marissa's death yet. Veronica kicks Taylor out as soon as she discovers her beloved daughter married a French man during her European trip.
When Seth visits Summer, she realizes that her materialistic, gossiping self may be forever gone ever since she went to Brown. Ryan helps Taylor with her divorce. Temptation stirs when Kaitlin and Julie vow to stay out of trouble. And Sandy longs for a guy's night out.
When Taylor learns about Ryan's sleeping problems she devises a plan to help him but must then turn to Kaitlin when her plan backfires. At Brown Summer and Che step up their activism and it lands them more freedom than imagined. Julie also gets help from Kaitlin to help save the dating service.
Kaitlin takes down the school mean girl by throwing a rager at her house. Sandy and Kirsten find time to bond with Ryan while Seth is away visiting Summer at Brown but all he finds is an empty dorm room. Meanwhile Julie continues work on the dating service and finds out a new surprise.
Chrismukkah once again returns to the Cohens. Ryan and Taylor have an accident while putting up the holiday lights and they end up in a sort of parallel universe, where all is not like it is meant to be, since Ryan does not exist. While - in the real world - everybody is worrying about them, except Taylor's mom, they eventually manage to fix things, also thanks to a letter from the past.
Ryan and Taylor may be heading out on a Las Vegas road trip for New Year's Eve, but there's even more fun in store when Seth and Summer join them. Meanwhile Julie doesn't trust NewMatch's new accountant, and Sandy suspects the reason why.
Kaitlin is assigned a tutor after she presented a ruffled report to her class. Julie comes clean to Kirsten about who Frank really is. Summer and Seth continue their recent commitment despite how they really feel about it. When Ryan's dad comes to the Cohen's for dinner things don't go as planned.
Taylor's ex-husband comes to Newport and causes a rift in her relationship with Ryan. Seth goes to Seattle to obtain Dr. Roberts blessing, while Summer "travels to the past" for 48 hours. Kaitlin finds love, while Julie finds problems with Kirsten.
Ryan overcomes his indecision and competes with Henri-Michel for Taylor's affections. Che leads Seth on a trek of spiritual renewal. Meanwhile, Kirsten and Julie have to do some damage control.
Sandy, Ryan and Seth prepare for Kirsten's upcoming 40th birthday party, however Kirsten learns some news that will change her life forever. Kaitlin tries to stop her mother having a secret love affair. Taylor visits a therapist and Ryan pretends that he doesnt miss her. Elsewhere Che finally learns that Seth isn't his soulmate.
Seth and Summer come upon a fortune teller whose prediction makes the two question whether they are truly meant for each other. Ryan gets back in touch with his father (with a little help from Taylor). When the two teens discover a love connection between Frank and Julie despite her pending engagement, a Valentine's competition is sparked between "Team Bullit" and "Team Frank". Meanwhile, with a new baby on the way, Kirsten finds herself dwelling on an old secret involving Jimmy Cooper.
It's Taylor's birthday and she hopes Ryan will tell her he loves her. She's unsure whether she should tell him she got into Berkeley as well. Summer feels that Seth should find something in his life that he really cares about whereas Kirsten is having second thoughts about raising another child in Newport. Then the unexpected happens even though it's been predicted.
In the immediate aftermath of a violent earthquake that rocks Newport, everyone struggles to stay together and keep their spirits up. Sandy and Kristen are stranded at the local shopping center where Kristen has an accident. Across town, Julie and Kaitlin are stranded in a demolished ice cream parlor on the pier with a pitiful worker of the place. Meanwhile, Ryan is seriously wounded with a piece of glass in his side, but keeps the news from Taylor to avoid panicking her. Seth soon learns of Ryan's condition and attempts to drive him to safety while Summer and Taylor search the ruins of the Roberts' house for Summer's missing rabbit, leading to Taylor having a confrontation with her mother.
The Cohen family says goodbye in the series finale as the episode jumps six months after the earthquake to show the Cohens, Ryan, Taylor, Summer and the Cooper women trying to piece their lives back together. The Cohens find out that fixing up their old mansion would cost more than rebuilding it but Ryan and Seth see this as an opportunity to give Sandy and an expecting Kirsten a surprise that'll change their lives.