Recent studies concluded that air quality has improved due to the enforcement of lockdown in the wake of COVID-19. However, they mostly concentrated on the changes during the lockdown period, and the studies considering the consequences of de-escalation of lockdown are inadequate. Therefore, we investigated the changes in fine particulate matter (PM2.5) during the pre-lockdown, strict lockdown, unlocking, and post-lockdown scenarios. In addition, we assessed the influence of meteorology, mobility, air mass transport, and biomass burning on PM2.5 using Google’s mobility data, back trajectory model, and satellite-based fire incident data. Average PM2.5 concentrations in Ghaziabad, Noida, and Faridabad decreased by 60.70%, 63.27%, and 60.40%, respectively, during the lockdown. When compared with the preceding year (2019), the reductions during the shutdown period (25 March-31 May) were within the range of 36.34-44.55%. However, considering the entire year, this reduction in PM2.5 is momentary, and a steady increase in traffic density and industrial operations within cities during post-lockdown reflects a potent recovery of aerosol level, during which the average mass of PM2.5 three- to four-folds higher than the lockdown period. Back trajectories and fire activity results showed that biomass burning in the nearby states (Haryana and Punjab) influence aerosol load. We conclude that a partial lockdown in the event of a sudden surge in pollution would be a beneficial approach. However, reducing fossil fuel consumption and switching to more environmentally friendly energy sources, developing green transport networks, and circumventing biomass burning are efficient ways to improve air quality in the long term.