The symmetry-adapted cluster-configuration interaction (SAC-CI) method has been used to investigate the optical and geometric properties of the oligomers of poly(para-phenylene vinylene) (PPV) and poly(para-phenylene) (PP). Vertical singlet and triplet absorption spectra and emission spectra have been calculated accurately; the mean average deviation from available experimental results lies within 0.2 eV. The chain length dependence of the transition energies has been improved in comparison to earlier TDDFT and MRSDCI calculations. The present analysis suggests that conventional TDDFT with the B3LYP functional should be used carefully, as it can provide inaccurate estimates of the chain length dependence of the excitation energies of these molecules with long pi conjugation. The T1 state was predicted to be at a lower energy, by 1.0-1.5 eV for PPV and by 0.9-1.7 eV for PP, than the S1 state, which indicates a localized T1 state with large exchange energy. By calculating the SAC-CI electron density difference between the ground and excited states, the geometry relaxations due to excitations can be analyzed in detail using electrostatic force theory. For trans-stilbene, the doubly excited 21Ag state was studied, and the calculated transition energy of 4.99 eV agrees very well with the experimental value of 4.84 eV. In contrast to previous ab initio calculations, we predict this doubly excited 21Ag state to lie above the 11Bu state.