It began with a team of British detectives on all fours scouring a hilly stretch of scrubland on Portugal's Algarve coast.
But at the end of the first week of searches in Praia da Luz, the air of hopeful anticipation collapsed into acrimony.
On Sunday, police packed up and left a six-hectare site where they had focused their operations over the previous week.
Tomorrow they will start again on two new areas near a campsite in the Portuguese village where Madeleine was last seen alive seven years ago.
For parents Kate and Gerry McCann, who were told by police not to visit Portugal while the searches were under way, the agony continues.
As last week's searches drew to a close, they defied orders to keep a low profile and appealed to people to "refrain from spreading rumours and speculation based on inaccurate reporting".
The couple said: "We are kept updated on the work in Portugal and are encouraged by the progress. Thank you for continuing to stand by us and supporting our efforts to get Madeleine home."
The McCanns' rare public statement came after a week when the face of their missing daughter was again splashed across the front pages of newspapers in Britain and in Portugal.
It started with a team of about 50 police cordoning off a dense stretch of wasteland a short walk from the holiday apartment where Madeleine disappeared on May 3, 2007, shortly before her fourth birthday.
As the investigative work got under way, incremental developments came thick and fast.
There was the chamber-like shaft beneath a scrap of corrugated iron where police found an item of clothing. It later turned out to be a man's sock.
Then officers found a "makeshift grave" using ground-penetrating radar, a laptop-sized tool that detects any disturbance in the ground below.
After that, the searches delved into the resort's underground sewerage network as detectives prised open at least three old manholes.
The police activity took place under the lenses of the world's media. British and Portuguese media even used a drone equipped with tiny cameras to ensure that nothing was left undocumented.
The insatiable appetite for details on the case has evidently not waned in the seven years since Madeleine went missing.
But Praia da Luz is trying to move on. The little whitewashed church attended by the McCanns in 2007 has taken down its sun-bleached photo of the then-three-year-old girl.
The mayor, Victor Mata, believes the locals have come to terms with once again being the focus of the police investigation.
"What's been happening in the past week hasn't bothered anybody really. People can move freely. Nobody's lives have been turned upside down because of this," he said. "The disruption is much less than we had foreseen.
"I don't think it has in any way changed the image of Luz. It's almost been uplifting in a sense, because the press from the UK have seen for themselves what a lovely place Luz is."
Portuguese police warned that the operation would be halted if the media obstructed it. But as the seventh day of searches ended, detectives appeared no closer to solving the mystery.