A weakly nonlinear theory, in terms of the well-known Landau equation, has been developed to describe the nonlinear saturation of the shear-banding instability in a rapid granular plane Couette flow using the amplitude expansion method. The nonlinear modes are found to follow certain symmetries of the base flow and the fundamental mode, which helped to identify analytical solutions for the base-flow distortion and the second harmonic, leading to an exact calculation of the first Landau coefficient. The present analytical solutions are used to validate a spectral-based numerical method for the nonlinear stability calculation. The regimes of supercritical and subcritical bifurcations for the shear-banding instability have been identified, leading to the prediction that the lower branch of the neutral stability contour in the (H,)-plane, where H is the scaled Couette gap (the ratio between the Couette gap and the particle diameter) and is the mean density or the volume fraction of particles, is subcritically unstable. The predicted finite-amplitude solutions represent shear localization and density segregation along the gradient direction. Our analysis suggests that there is a sequence of transitions among three types of pitchfork bifurcations with increasing mean density: from (i) the bifurcation from infinity in the Boltzmann limit to (ii) subcritical bifurcation at moderate densities to (iii) supercritical bifurcation at larger densities to (iv) subcritical bifurcation in the dense limit and finally again to (v) supercritical bifurcation near the close packing density. It has been shown that the appearance of subcritical bifurcation in the dense limit depends on the choice of the contact radial distribution function and the constitutive relations. The scalings of the first Landau coefficient, the equilibrium amplitude and the phase diagram, in terms of mode number and inelasticity, have been demonstrated. The granular plane Couette flow serves as a paradigm that supports all three possible types of pitchfork bifurcations, with the mean density () being the single control parameter that dictates the nature of the bifurcation. The predicted bifurcation scenario for the shear-band formation is in qualitative agreement with particle dynamics simulations and the experiment in the rapid shear regime of the granular plane Couette flow. © 2010 Cambridge University Press.