The Master and Margarita is split into three different, yet intertwined, stories. There are events in Moscow, including the adventures of satanic visitors, events concerning the crucifixion of Yeshua Ha-Notsri or Jesus Christ, in first-century Yershalaim, and the love story of the Master and Margarita. All three stories are told from Wednesday until the night between Saturday and Sunday of the Holy Week.
Mikhail Alexandrovitch Berlioz, an «important literary personality» as chairman of the board of MASSOLIT, one of the major literary associations, and Ivan Nikolayevitch Ponyryov, a poet who wrote under the pseudonym of Bezdomny, which means Homeless, meet each other at the Patriarch's Ponds in Moscow to discuss a poem that Ivan had to write for Berlioz. Berlioz had wanted Ivan to rewrite the poem because he thought that it presented the Jesus character way too realisticly. He explains why he believes that Jesus never existed, while he teaches Ivan a lesson in religion history. After a while Berlioz is interrupted by a mysterious man, Professor Woland, who ensures him that Jesus really existed. When Berlioz protests, Woland starts to tell the story of Pontius Pilate, without forgetting to tell Berlioz that his head would be cut off by a Komsomol girl before the evening of the same day.
The story shifts to Yershalaim or Jerusalem, where Pilate is hearing the case of Yeshua Ha-Notsri or Jesus of Nazareth. Yeshua is accused of inciting the people to burn down the temple and to resist to the emperor Tiberius. Pilate has to judge on him, and Yeshua is sentenced to death.
Back in Moscow, Berlioz is indeed decapitated while he was leaving Patriarch's Ponds. He slipped away over spilt sunflower oil and was thrown on to the rails of a tram-car. Ivan remembers the prediction of the strange professor and tries to follow Woland and his weird companions - the «choirmaster» Korovyev and the giant black cat Behemoth through the streets of Moscow, without results. During this chase via Spiridanovka, the Nikitsky Gate, Kropotkin street and Ostozhenkastreet he raises hell in an apartment and ends up at the «the granite steps of the Moscow River amphitheatre», but the threesome has disappeared. He takes off his clothes to search in the water, but when he gives up his attempts he finds out that his clothes have been stolen. Only a pair of striped drawers and a torn Tolstoy blouse,have been left.
For some unexplicable reason Ivan thinks that the professor must be at the Griboedov House, MASSOLIT's homebase. In a not unnoticed way - because of his underwear - he runs to that place. He tries to give a logical explanation to the writers present for his strange dress by telling the story of the day but he gets tied up and transported to the psychiatric hospital of doctor Stravinski.
Styopa Likhodeev, Berlioz's roommate in apartment 50 of a building in Bolshaya Sadovaya ulitsa no. 302-bis, and director of the Variety Theatre, had come to his senses that morning at home and sees Woland waiting for him. Number 50 was called the «evil apartment» because former tenants disappeared mysteriously.
Woland reminds Likhodeev that he had promised him to organise seven performances of black magic in his theatre. Likhodeev doesn't recall such agreement. But Woland shows him a contract with his signature; it seems that Woland is manipulating the situation but Likhodeev is bounded by the agreement. When he realises that he should authorize Woland to perform in his theatre, Woland introduces him to his gang - Behemoth, Korovyev, and the small red-haired Azazello - and he tells him that they will need apartment number 50. Woland and his companions don't like people like Styopa Likhodeev. People like him, on high level functions, are scum to them - «Availing hisself of a government car!» the cat snitched, chewing a mushroom. «My retinue requires room,» Woland continued, «so there's just one too many of us in the apartment. And it seems to us that this one too many is precisely you.»
One second later Styopa finds himself far away in Yalta. Variety's financial director Grigori Danilovitch Rimsky and administrator Ivan Savelevichtch Varenukha notice that their director has disappeared, while the satanic gang causes confusion in the building at Bolshaya Sadovaya ulitsa no. 302-bis. The greedy chairman of the tenants of the building, Nikanor Ivanovitch Bosoy, appears to be in the posession of foreign currency and is therefor arrested by the police. Ivan Savelevichtch Varenukha localises Styopa Likhodeev, after a desperate correspondence by telegramme from Yalta. At the same time he tries, with the help of others, to find out the identity of the mysterious professor Woland. In order to avoid embarassing questions from Varenukha, Woland sends a new demonic creature. It's Hella, a «completely naked girl», she is red-haired, and her eyes are «burning with a phosphorescent gleam». «"Let me give you a kiss», the girl said tenderly to Varenukha, but he fainted and «never felt the kiss».
In the Variety Theatre Woland and his helpers present a black magic show, in which compère George Bengalski is decapitated. After that, the ladies in the theatre got a possibility to satisfy to the whole extend their desires, coming from the depth of their hearts, in free of charge purchasing of luxury clothes and jewellery, which leads to chaotic and hilarious scenes, in which chervontsi bills whirl down on the audience, and in which the guest of honour of that night, Arkady Appolonovitch Sempleyarov, chairman of the Acoustics Commission of the Moscow theatres, in the presence of his wife was exposed as an adulterer in public. Briefly: «something like Babel broke loose in the Variety».
Meanwhile, back in the hospital, Ivan meets the patient staying in the room next to his. We are introduced to the novel's hero, the master. Ivan tells him what happened the last few days, and the master tells Ivan that he's met the devil. Then the master tells his own story to Ivan. He was once an historian (the same profession that Ivan will start at the end of the story), but when he won hundred-thousand roubles in a lottery connected to a state loan, he quit his job to work on a book. One day he met Margarita, and fell desperately in love with her. When he presented the book to a publisher, he was asked who had incited him to write about such strange subject. The book was rejected and, although it was never published, different critics started to assault it in the newspapers. Especially the critic Latunski was merciless. In a fit of insanity the Master was imagining that an octopus entered his room. It suddenly seemed to him that «the autumn darkness would push through the glass and pour into the room, and he would drown in it as in ink». The master burned his book. Margarita saved a piece and kept it, but the master, persuaded that he was incurably sick, had gone to the hospital. He was there now for four months, and had no longer met Margarita again.
The show in the Variety Theatre came to an end and in Moscow «shameful and disgusting» things were happening. All ladies who had rummaged clothes during the spectacle, are now running in the street completely naked or in underwear. And Rimski get unexpected visit of Varenukha and Hella.
Nikanor Ivanovich, the president of the tenants of the building in Bolshaya Sadovaya ulitsa no. 302-bis, ended up in the hospital too and has a weird dream about Pushkin's poems and foreign currency. His tossing and turning causes some commotion among the other guests. It affects Ivan too. He gets a shot to calm down, and starts dreaming the continuation of Pilate's story: three condemned men, one of which is Yeshuah Ha-Nozri, are walking to the place where they will be executed. Matthew Levi watches them dying and feels responsible for it. He gets angry and curses God. A heavy storm bursts and Matthew Levi disappears with Yeshua's body.
The police is investigating what happened in the Variety Theatre. The chervontsi bills that whirled over the audience the day before, appear to be changed into labels from seltzer bottles.
Woland and his group are still raising hell in Moscow. They intimidate Maksimilian Andreyevitch Poplavsky, Berlioz' uncle who came from Kiev hoping to take over the apartment of his cousin in Moscow. And they announce to the barman of the Variety Theatre, Andrei Fokitch Sokov, that he's going to die in nine months, next February, of liver cancer, in the clinic of the First Moscow State University, in ward number four. He visits a doctor who later finds out that the money that Sokov paid to him (chervontsi bills from Woland's show), had changed into «labels from bottles of Abrau-Durso wine».
«What other prodigies occurred in Moscow that night we do not know and certainly will not try to find out - especially as it has come time for us to go on to the second part of this truthful narrative», Bulgakov writes. And then he adds: «За мной, читатель!» or «Follow me, reader!». Time for book II...
Margarita makes her entry. She's worried about her beloved one, the master, and she reads what's left over of his novel. Then she goes to the Alexander Garden. Sitting on one of the benches under the Kremlin wall, settled in such a way that she could see the Manege, she's a witness of Berlioz' funeral and she meets Azazello. He organises a meeting between Margarita and Woland. He offers some cream to Margarita and tells her that she will feel much better when she uses it. Margarita rubs it all over her body and becomes a witch. Azazello contacts her again and tells her to fly to the river in order to meet Woland. Totally naked on her broom, she flies over the city and on her way in the Dramlit building she destroys the apartment of Latunski, the man she holds responsible for the master's misery. Her housemaid Natasha used the cream too, so became a witch too and follows Margarita in the air. She's flying on a pig, which appears to be Nikolay Ivanovich, her downstairs neighbour.
The threesome meets Woland and his disciples, and Satan's ball starts with Margarita as the hostess. A multicoloured parade of dead celebrities and dregs of society enters the hall, and the highlight of the evening is the execution of Baron Meigel, an employee of the Spectacles Commission, in charge of acquainting foreigners with places of interest in the capital and who is accused by Woland of being a stool-pigeon and a spy.
Woland orders Margarita to drink Meigel's blood, she opens her eyes when the ball is over. Woland tells her that she may make a wish. She wants to be reunited again with the master. And so it happens.
At first the master is somewhat confused but soon he realises that he's back again with the woman he loves. Woland appears to have a copy of the complete text of the master's manuscript, although he had put it into the fire. Then Woland proposes to the master and Margarita, and to some other characters as Nikolay Ivanovitch and Varenukha, to return to the life they desire. Natasha chooses for remaining a witch.
And the story of Pilate continues too... he meets the chief of the secret police, Aphranius. He supposes that Yehuda of Kerioth, the man who betrayed Yeshua will be killed. And so it happens. In a meeting with Levi, Pilate admits that he did it himself.
In Moscow the investigation of the strange events caused by Woland and his gang are continued by «a certain Moscow institution». The enquiry «most regrettably, produced no results»: Thousands of spectators, the whole staff of the Variety, and finally Arkady Apollonovich Sempleyarov,, a most educated man, had seen this magician, as well as his thrice-cursed assistants, and yet it was absolutely impossible to find him anywhere. One character after the other gets arrested, some are without a trace, unbelievable rumours are spread over the city.
A «big company of men in civilian clothes» bursts in on apartment 50, where Korovyev and Azazello are having breakfast. It comes to a gunfight between the officers and Behemoth but it's noteworthy that no one gets hurt. The building goes up in flames though, and there flew out of the fifth-storey window three dark, apparently male silhouettes and one silhouette of a naked woman... Korovyev and Behemoth have their last adventures in Torgsin, a store where only hard currency can be used. They put the place in an uproar again and cause fire with a primus. A little later they want to enter Griboedov where they want to have dinner, but when three men with guns try to get in, they start a fire there too.
While Woland is looking over the city from a terrace, Matthew Levi shows up. He comes to Woland with a message from Yeshua: he asks to offer «peace» to themaster. Woland agrees, and Azazello offers poisoned wine to the master and Margarita. Their bodies die and the couple flies away on black horses, accompanied by demonic creatures. When they fly over doctor Stravinsky's hospital they stop to say goodbye to Ivan. The master entrusts him the mission to write a sequel about «him», because he will «be occupied with other things». «Farewell, disciple», he says before he disappears with Margarita.
On Sparrow Hills, the master and Margarita say goodbye to the city and the riders rise into the air and gallop. During the flight, the satanic creatures take on their original form again. After a while they see a man and a dog. Woland says this man is the hero of the master's novel: Pontius Pilate. He says that Pilate has been sitting on this platform for about two thousand years together with his dog Banga. Woland allows the master to set Pilate free from his eternal insomnia by finishing his story with one phrase. And the master cried out: «You're free! You're free! He's waiting for you!» Pilate and Banga can leave their place to be with Yeshua.
Then Woland and his troup are gone forever. The master and Margarita go to their «eternal little house with Venetian windows and a twisting vine which climbs right up to the roof». It is their home, their eternal home.