The film starts in medias res, 13 years after Baiano's death. Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura) is shown leaving a hospital, and a man reports this on his radio chatter. Soon after, his car is blocked and gunned down by unknown shooters.
In the opening scene, chickens are being prepared for a meal when a chicken escapes and an armed gang chases after it in a favela called the Cidade de Deus ("City of God"). The chicken stops between the gang and a young man named Rocket (Buscapé), who believes that the gang wants to kill him. A flashback traces Rocket, the narrator, back to the late 1960s. He lived incredibly poor in this slum of Rio.
In an unnamed city, a young Japanese professional (Yusuke Iseya) is suddenly struck blind for no apparent reason. The Japanese man is approached by a few concerned people, one of whom (Don McKellar) offers to drive him home, and later steals his car. The blinded man describes his sudden affliction: an expanse of dazzling white, as though he is "swimming in milk".
In 1973, the Manfredini family moved from Rio to Brasília. Renato, suffered from a rare bone disease, the epiphysiolysis and after surgery he was in need of a wheelchair. Forced to stay at home and being treated with morphine, the young man began to project his plans to become the greatest rock star of Brazil, creating, later, the group Aborto Elétrico, becoming the "Loner Troubadour" and later, creating the band Legião Urbana.
The film tells of two very different men who share a prison cell in Brazil during the Brazilian military government: Valentin Arregui, who is imprisoned (and has been tortured) due to his activities on behalf of a leftist revolutionary group, and Luis Molina, a homosexual in prison for having sex with an underage boy.
Captain Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura) narrates the film, briefly explaining how the police and the drug lords of Rio de Janeiro cooperate with each other (policemen collect periodic bribes and drug lords are left free to operate) in the 90's.
Raquel is a girl, adopted by an upper-middle-class family, who rebelled at 17 and left her family and studies at a traditional college in São Paulo to become a prostitute, and later call girl. Shortly after starting work, she decided to write a blog about her experiences. Since some clients thought she looked like a surfer she adopted the name "Surfistinha", which means "little surfer girl". This blog became a sensation, and quickly became one of the most popular blogs in Brazil. Becoming famous, her life changed significantly. She went on to be interviewed on Brazilian talk shows similar to Oprah and David Letterman, all the while continuing her blog about her racy exploits. She wrote a book about these experiences "O Doce Veneno Do Escorpião" ("The Scorpion's Sweet Poison").
Deco (Bruno Gagliasso) and Zoé (Leandra Leal) fall in love after saving a puppy with narcolepsy. The relationship ends two years later and Zoe takes the couple's dog with her. For the first time, Deco has to take a stand, and retrieve his dog.
In 2011, João "Zero" (Moura), a bitter but brilliant physicist, spends his days brooding over a fateful night 20 years before when he was publicly betrayed and humiliated at a college party by his girlfriend. He now heads one of the largest scientific projects in Brazil, but his eccentricities and tantrums have brought him to the verge of being fired by his former college roommate and current sponsor, Sandra.
The plot concerns the adventures of João Grilo (Matheus Nachtergaele) and Chicó (Selton Mello), the most cowardly of men. Both struggle for daily bread in a telling representation of the life of the poor in North-East Brazil (O Nordeste) and gull a series of comical stereotypes - baker, landowner, and priest - in a series of interrelated episodes united by the passion of the adulterous baker's wife for her little dog who dies from eating the food she supplies to them as occasional workers, and the daughter of the landowner Antônio Morais (Paulo Goulart) - a magnificent comic character who represents the colonial pretensions of the erstwhile "colonial" class who owned the great estates (or "fazendas") of the region in which sugar production was central to a once-booming economy.
Taoca, a part-time fisherman and small-time con artist, finds a man holding on to a buoy in the middle of the ocean. The man claims he is God, but Taoca doesn't believe him until he performs some miracles.