On 1 June, Li Peng issued a report titled "On the True Nature of the Turmoil", which was circulated to every member of the Politburo. The report aimed to persuade the Politburo of the necessity and legality of clearing Tiananmen Square by referring to the protestors as terrorists and counterrevolutionaries. The report stated that turmoil was continuing to grow, the students had no plans to leave, and they were gaining popular support.
On 2 June, the movement saw an increase in action and protest, solidifying the CPC's decision that it was time to act. Protests broke out as newspapers published articles that called for the students to leave Tiananmen Square and end the movement. Many of the students in the Square were not willing to leave and were outraged by the articles.
On 2 June, Deng Xiaoping and several party elders met with the three remaining politburo standing committee members, Li Peng, Qiao Shi and Yao Yilin, after Zhao Ziyang and Hu Qili had been ousted; the committee members agreed to clear the Square so "the riot can be halted and order be restored to the Capital." They also agreed that the Square needed to be cleared as peacefully as possible, but if protesters did not cooperate, the troops were authorized to use force to complete the job. That day, state-run newspapers reported that troops were positioned in ten key areas in the city.
On the evening of 2 June, reports that an army trencher ran into four civilians, killing three sparked fear that the army and the police were trying to advance into Tiananmen Square. Student leaders issued emergency orders to set up roadblocks at major intersections to prevent the entry of troops into the center of the city.
On the evening of 3 June, state-run television warned residents to stay indoors but crowds of people took to the streets, as they had two weeks before, to block the incoming army. PLA units advanced on Beijing from every direction—the 38th, 63rd and 28th Armies from the west, the 15th Airborne Corps, 20th, 26th and 54th Armies from the south, the 39th Army and the 1st Armored Division from the east and the 40th and 64th Armies from the north.
On the morning of 3 June, students and residents discovered troops dressed in plainclothes trying to smuggle weapons into the city. The students seized and handed the weapons to Beijing Police. The students protested outside the Xinhua Gate of the Zhongnanhai leadership compound and the police fired tear gas. Unarmed troops emerged from the Great Hall of the People and were quickly met with crowds of protesters. Several protesters tried to injure the troops as they collided outside the Great Hall of the People, forcing soldiers to retreat, but only for a short while.
On the morning of 4 June, police forcibly broke up the student demonstration taking place in Chengdu's main square. The resulting violence killed eight people, and injured hundreds.
The suppression on June 4 marked the end of a period of relative press freedom in China and media workers—both foreign and domestic—faced heightened restrictions and punishment in the aftermath of the crackdown. State media reports in the immediate aftermath were sympathetic to the students. As a result, those responsible were all later removed from their posts.
In Shanghai, students marched on the streets on 5 June and erected roadblocks on major thoroughfares. Factory workers went on a general strike and took to the streets as well; railway traffic was also blocked. Public transport was also suspended and prevented people from getting to work.
On 5 June, the suppression of the protest was immortalized outside of China via video footage and photographs of a lone man standing in front of a column of tanks leaving Tiananmen Square via Chang'an Avenue. The "Tank Man", as it became known, became one of the most iconic photographs in the 20th century. As the tank driver tried to go around him, the "Tank Man" moved into the tank's path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position in front of the tanks, the man was pulled aside by a group of people.
On 7 June, students from major Shanghai universities stormed various campus facilities to erect biers in commemoration of the dead in Beijing. The situation gradually came under control without use of deadly force.
Similar scenes unfolded in Nanjing. On 7 June, hundreds of students staged a blockade at the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge as well as the Zhongyangmen Railway Bridge. They were persuaded to evacuate without incident later that day, though returned the next day to occupy the main railway station and the bridges.
On 13 June 1989, the Beijing Public Security Bureau released an order for the arrest of 21 students who they identified as leaders of the protest. These 21 most wanted student leaders were part of the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation which had been an instrumental student organization in the Tiananmen Square protests. Though decades have passed, the Most Wanted list has never been retracted by the Chinese government.