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After Ichigo returns from Soul Society, Isshin attacks him in bed. Ichigo blocks the attack, earning praise from Isshin. He returns the protective charm to Isshin, who, saying he does not want it, sews it to Ichigo's school uniform, leaving Ichigo to wonder if he lied about Masaki having given him the charm. At school, he realizes Tatsuki can see his Substitute Shinigami badge, which alerts him to a nearby Hollow, which he rushes to defeat. After having Uryū patch up Kon's ragged plushie, Ichigo realizes he has lost his Quincy powers as a result of going to Soul Society. That night, he is confronted by Shinji Hirako, who reveals both he and Ichigo are Visored. Ichigo shrugs off Shinji's repeated requests to join him. When Ichigo, seeming depressed, returns from school, he, brushing off his family's concerns, goes to his room, where he contemplates still being able to hear his inner Hollow, and how it has been becoming worse lately.
Interrupting his thoughts, Karin reveals she knows he is a Shinigami. As Ichigo tries to dismiss this notion, the arrival of two Arrancar in Karakura Town causes Ichigo to rush off. Upon seeing Sado injured, Ichigo, battling Yammy Llargo with his Bankai, manages to cut off his arm. Ichigo's inner Hollow, interfering, paralyzes Ichigo, allowing Yammy to injure both him and Orihime. Yoruichi and Urahara arrive to protect them, prompting the Arrancar to withdraw.
After his failure against Yammy, Ichigo becomes depressed that he cannot protect his friends. This mood lasts until the arrival of a Gotei 13 expeditionary force under the command of Tōshirō Hitsugaya. Rukia forces Ichigo to defeat a Hollow, all the while chastising him, and forces him to apologize to Orihime. Later that day, Ichigo, discussing the growing Arrancar threat with Hitsugaya's force, learns what the Arrancar actually are. After they discuss the mission, Ichigo, annoyed by their company, asks them when they will be leaving. When Renji tells him they cannot return to Soul Society until after the Arrancar threat is dealt with, Ichigo insists they cannot all stay at his house, and they eventually leave, except for Rukia, who convinces Isshin and Yuzu to allow her to stay in the girls' room using a cover story.
During the night, six Arrancar, lead by Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez invade Karakura Town, seeking targets with spiritual power. Rukia states one of them has already arrived at Sado's house. Sado is attacked by Di Roy Rinker, but Ichigo arrives in time to stops him. Ichigo tells Sado to let him handle the Arrancar, and Sado leaves. When Rukia, arriving, asks Ichigo what he said to Sado, Ichigo tells her he told him to step aside and let him fight. Telling Ichigo to step aside, as he already exceeded his strength when he fought Yammy, Rukia transforms into her Shinigami form, which surprises Ichigo. Chappy, the Artificial Soul possessing Rukia's Gigai, restrains Ichigo while Rukia fights. As Chappy explains Rukia's Zanpakutō to him, they are confronted by Grimmjow.
As Rukia yells to Ichigo to retreat, Grimmjow impales her. Charging at Grimmjow, Ichigo, unable to harm him with his Shikai, activates his Bankai, but Grimmjow, blocking Ichigo's strikes unarmed, outmaneuvers him. Grimmjow continues to overwhelm Ichigo until he uses his black Getsuga Tenshō to attack Grimmjow. Blocking it with his arms, the Arrancar takes minimal damage, and Ichigo realizes he is in danger of his inner Hollow taking over. The fight is brought to a close when Kaname Tōsen forces Grimmjow return to Hueco Mundo. When an angry Ichigo demands Grimmjow finish their fight, Grimmjow counters by saying the only reason Ichigo is still alive is because he is leaving before their fight is finished. As the Garganta closes, Ichigo is left to ponder the events which have occurred. When Renji, arriving, asks Ichigo if he won, Ichigo states he lost, but Renji says since he is alive, it means he won. Telling him not to patronize him, as he would not be saying this if he were in Ichigo's position, Ichigo states he cannot protect anyone or even help the wounded.
Feeling unable to control his inner Hollow, Ichigo seeks out the Visored in order to gain control. At their hideout, Hiyori Sarugaki draws out his inner Hollow, which nearly kills her. The other Visored stop Ichigo, who is told he must force the Hollow into the very core of his soul. After a brief period of unappreciated training, Ichigo is sent in to his inner world to face his inner Hollow. While the Visored fight his out of control body, in his inner world, Ichigo, unable to damage the Hollow, is instead stabbed. After a brief discourse with his Hollow and another with a manifestation of Kenpachi, Ichigo learns he lacks pure fighting spirit, instead needing reasons to fight his opponents. His spirit rekindled by this revelation, Ichigo, subduing his inner Hollow, regains consciousness. Ichigo trains with Hiyori to increase the amount of time he can stay in his new masked form.
A month later, Ichigo once again fights Grimmjow, though he can only remain in his masked form for eleven seconds. As he overwhelms the 6th Espada, his mask crumbles when the time limit expires, and Grimmjow counterattacks. Pinning his hands to the ground, the Espada tries to kill him with a Cero, but Rukia freezes his arm. As Grimmjow tries to kill her, Shinji, stepping in, fights him until the Arrancar retreat. When tending to Ichigo's wounds, the Visored Hachigen Ushōda reveals Ichigo's spiritual power has been contaminated somewhat by Grimmjow's, and, at his behest, Rukia takes Ichigo home to recover. While in a deep sleep, he is visited by Orihime, who heals his wounds.
When Ichigo awakens, he realizes his wrist has been healed by Orihime. Hitsugaya brings him to Orihime's apartment for an emergency communication with Soul Society. Captain Ukitake tells them Orihime was taken by an Arrancar, and might have been killed. When Ichigo reveals she visited him to heal him the night before, Captain-Commander Yamamoto believes she has betrayed them. Silencing Ichigo's protest, Renji requests permission to go to Hueco Mundo to rescue her, but the request is denied. When Ichigo asks to go save Orihime by himself, Yamamoto, once again denying the request, states Ichigo is a significant asset to Soul Society. The Shinigami are ordered to return to Soul Society to fortify their defenses, leaving Ichigo alone.
While being confronted by Tatsuki over Orihime's disappearance, Ichigo learns Tatsuki can see him in Shinigami form. Trying to distance himself from his friends, Ichigo goes to Urahara's shop. Ichigo is joined by Uryū and Sado, and, after some convincing, the trio agree to help each other rescue Orihime. Urahara opens a Garganta to Hueco Mundo, and they enter the portal.
Hueco Mundo arc
As Ichigo, Sado, and Uryū enter Hueco Mundo, they are promptly attacked by two Arrancar, Demoura Zodd and Aisslinger Wernarr. Ichigo is told to stay back as Sado and Uryū engage the two Arrancar by themselves. Once they win, the room and passageway collapses around them, forcing the trio to race outside, where they see Las Noches. Seeing Nel Tu being chased by three Hollows, they, intervening, are surprised to learn the child is an Arrancar, and her pursuers are her two "brothers" and their pet playing a game. Traveling toward Las Noches, the expanded group comes under attack by the sand-based Hollow, Runuganga. The Hollow is immune to their attacks, but the group is saved by Renji and Rukia, who defeat it. Breaking into Las Noches, Ichigo and his group split up. Following Ichigo, Nel catches up to him just as he is attacked by Dordoni Alessandro Del Socaccio.
Trying to defeat the Privaron Espada without his Bankai, Ichigo is unable to do so. When Dordoni fires a Cero at Ichigo, Nel, intervening, absorbs the blast before firing it back at him. Dordoni attacks Nel, prompting Ichigo to use his Bankai to save her. Dordoni tries to convince Ichigo to use his Hollow mask, which he ultimately does, defeating Dordoni in an instant upon doing so. Partly healed by Nel, Dordoni attacks Ichigo, who, blocking the attack, runs away with Nel after Dordoni gives his life to keep the Exequias from stopping them. Upon sensing Rukia's defeat, Ichigo is confronted by Ulquiorra.
When Ulquiorra tells Ichigo Rukia has been killed, Ichigo, attempting to leave to save her, reasons he and Ulquiorra have no reason to fight. When Ulquiorra successfully goads Ichigo into fighting, Ichigo delivers an extremely powerful attack, but Ulquiorra, suffering little damage, counterattacks, revealing himself to be the 4th Espada. Impaling Ichigo's chest with his hand, Ulquiorra leaves. Grimmjow, wanting to fight him at full strength, brings Orihime to heal Ichigo.
As their battle ensues, the advantage shifts between the two combatants. When Ichigo uses his Hollow mask to protect Orihime and Nel from Grimmjow's Gran Rey Cero, Grimmjow, seeing Ichigo is finally at his full strength, releases his Resurrección, fiercely attacking Ichigo. As both combatants are heavily injured, Grimmjow prepares to strike down Ichigo, whom Orihime begs not to get hurt anymore. Stopping Grimmjow's attack, Ichigo slashes him. Enraged at the injury, Grimmjow, impaling Ichigo through the stomach, uses his most powerful attack, Desgarrón. Overcoming this, Ichigo defeats Grimmjow. As the 6th Espada tries to attack once more, Ichigo stops him. Nnoitra Gilga, appearing, incapacitates Grimmjow and, attacking Ichigo, reveals he is the 5th Espada.
As they fight, Nnoitra recognizes Nel as the former third Espada, Nelliel Tu Odelschwanck. As Nel denies this, Nnoitra attacks Ichigo again. Seeing Ichigo hurt, Nel, transforming into her adult form, battles Nnoitra, but eventually reverts to her child form. When Nnoitra kicks Nel, the enraged Ichigo, attacking again, is slammed into the ground. As Tesra Lindocruz moves in to kill Ichigo, Kenpachi, arriving, defeats Tesra. As Kenpachi and Nnoitra fight, Orihime heals Ichigo and Nel. As Orihime defends Yachiru Kusajishi, Ichigo, trying to stop Orihime, is stunned when he cannot break through her healing shield.
After Kenpachi defeats Nnoitra, Coyote Starrk recovers Orihime. Trying to stop him, Ichigo is unable to do so. Using Tenteikūra, Aizen, announcing Orihime's location, says he is leaving to destroy Karakura Town. After Kenpachi explains his duty as a Substitute Shinigami, Ichigo, telling Kenpachi his duty is to protect his friends, rushes to rescue Orihime. Upon arriving at the tower where Orihime is being held, he is attacked by the Exequias. Renji, Chad, and Rukia arrive to fight them so Ichigo can continue on. Ichigo finds Orihime under the guard of Ulquiorra, who draws his Zanpakutō to Ichigo Kurosaki & Uryū Ishida vs. Ulquiorra Cifer: Final Fightfight him.