Desktop Icons And Taskbar Disappear

by on November 28, 2007

Q: I have a computer with Windows XP Pro SP2 and when I turned on my computer the desktop icons and taskbar came up as usual. However, after about 30 seconds the desktop items and the taskbar disappear. They came back after a couple of seconds and then went away again. This continued for a few minutes until the desktop icons and the taskbar were just gone for good. I have done heaps of virus scans with Kaspersky and spyware scans with Spybot but nothing has worked. Can you help me?

A: The problems that you have mentioned all relate to a program within Windows called explorer.exe. Do not worry, explorer.exe is supposed to be part of Windows. It manages many different parts of the user interface in Windows. As long as your antivirus and anti-spyware programs are up-to-date, you can probably believe the results of your security scans. Most often, explorer.exe fails because Windows cannot find where it is physically located on your hard drive. There are some maintenance routines built into Windows XP that should help Windows to find the location of explore.exe and other files too.

The first of these is called defragmentation. This tool helps your computer to make a map of the files on its hard drive so that Windows can find them more easily. You can access this feature by going: My Computer => right click on your hard drive => Properties => Tools. The second maintenance feature, Error-checking, is also located in the Tools tab. Please select both checkboxes in the Error-checking window. The next time you restart your computer, your hard drive will be scanned for errors and repaired. Repeat these routines for all of the hard drives in your computer. For you future reference, neither Linux nor Mac computers currently require the use of such maintenance programs.

I am 99.9% sure that the tools described above will fix your problem. If not, consider creating backups of your important data and reinstalling Windows. Good Luck!

*NOTE: A reader of, Tejas, has submitted a solution that might help others so here it is.

After you log on to your computer and your icons/taskbar disappear do Ctr + Alt + Del and then click File -> New Task and when prompted type in regedit.exe. A new window will open up and you will need to go to the folder that says HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE -> Software -> Microsoft -> Windows NT -> Current Version -> just click on winlogon once, do not expand it.

Then you will need to locate Shell on the right hand side. Right click on Shell and change its value to explorer.exe if it isn’t already. Mine was already explorer.exe but I retyped it and entered it and it works now.

As Robert said originally, the reason this happens is the computer is having a hard time finding explorer.exe so changing this value, even if it looks correct, can help because sometimes there are hidden characters in typing that you cannot see.

Again best of luck and thank you Tejas for the extra help.

54 Responses to “Desktop Icons And Taskbar Disappear”

    Hi, I’m having the same problems, and I am willing to try this way that has been described, but my Taskbar dissapeared, along with it the Icon for My Computer. Is there another way I can fix the problem?


      Hi! i also encountered the same problem. I tried the steps mentioned above but it didn’t fix the problem… any workarounds pls?


        Did you get it yet?


        Its just a virus. So don’t do anything drastic. Try using Malwarebytes first.


      I opened task manager and went to run.
      Typed in %systemroot%\system32\restore\rstrui.exe
      This did a system restore which has fixed the problem for now


    Me too. I can’t get to my computer. What can I do


      I put some easy ways to get to your desktop in entries at the bottom of this list. May 20 & May 23 are dates. Hope they help.


    Hi Kelly and Tracey: It would be almost impossible to scan a computer with Kaspersky and Spybot — as was done in the original question — without either a taskbar or desktop icons such as My Computer. Don’t worry, there is a workaround! Boot Microsoft Windows into Safe Mode by pressing F8 as your computer first starts. You will then see a list of choices. Choose Safe Mode; do not use the command prompt or networking options. The rest of my instructions should then work as originally posted. Please keep my up-to-date on your progress! Best Regards, Robert B.


    Hey i tried but it does nothing. Will anyone help me for the same


    i have the same problem but the only way i can get access to my computer is by using the task manager ctrl+alt+del and go to new task, browse from there u can go to my computer and fix the problem good luck


    this problem started 3 days ago and i have been trying to fix nonstop since. this defrag/error check thing sounds like it might be reason for hope. i’ll let you guys know what happens,


    i have a problem im just on the computer when all od a sudden the icon and the strat button and the time everthing goes off exxpest for the programs i already pen and i don no why plzz help


      in ref to desktop icons flashing on & off &finally going blank, I had that problem a while ago…I ran malwarebytes anti malware. accesed program through my task manager & it was fixed..hadTrojan.Vundo.H removed.. good luck


    i have the same prob. desktop, explorer disappear every 5 to 10 seconds.
    performed a complete scan using avast, vundo remover and superantispyware. no use at al


    i have the same issue i’ve done a virus and spyware scan and did not help. i then tried a chckdsk… nothing. so then i figure boot from windows cd and run a repair windows also nothing. which brings me to the conclusion that it must be a registry issue. at least in my case i think. any thoughts???


    Same sort of problem. I have a 3 screen setup for Flight Simulation running a Matrox Parhelia card. I updated the drivers from the net then everytime I boot the screens build as normal then after 10 secondes the icons dissappear (with beebs from the computer) to an empty desktop. The mouse works, but no right click, no Crt+alt+Del…… nothing. The only thing to do is reboot. Over 3 days it has booted up properly 2 or 3 times. Will NOT boot into safe mode. Getting desperate, any advice please


    you might want to try this, copy explorer.exe from other computer (same OS) then paste it in c:/windows/(your comp)
    i once have nearly same prob, the explorer didn’t start at all, just plain wallpaper it looked like my explorer.exe corrupt.


    I met the same trouble as you ,maybe some viruses are the cause .After scanning
    and killing virus by ‘avg antivirus ‘ the problem was solved.


    I to have the same problem, The PC boots up then the icons and task bar start flashing on and off, stays off sometimes, can only get on using the task manager. Scanned with AVG, Spy-Bot S&D,and with others, defraged. System restore has no restore points, and cant boot in safe mode.Also tried using the MS C/D that didnt work either.

    what other things to try,,

    please help.




    We have another answer at that might be of help but if that does not help I fear the next best step is probably to reinsall Windows.



    I’m having alot of trouble with this also, It first started with my icons disappearing, i could’t get them to come back and i had to completely reformat my pc. After i freshly reformatted and reistalled windows 2k, my icons now costantly disapear and the my pc freezes. i have tried everythig to get my pc to work right, can anyone help?


    I got the same problem, when I install advance windows care and try to fix the problem that program is telling. after i reboot my desktop icons and taskbar is disappearing and back after a few secs no right click on the desktop. Only the task manager is available to use. I tried to scan it with norton antivirus 2008 but there are no virus found. tried some anti-spyware and it didn’t work too. can anyone help me on this?.


    I’ve tried scanning my comp with avg, avast, spybot, norton, kaspersky, comodo, and avast found some trojans on my comp. but it didn’t fix the problem at all! Help 🙁

    plus I can’t open computer cus it keeps on dissapearing


    Have you guys cleaned the inside of your pcs lately?


    we are having the same problem with a laptop. we’ve tried numerous fixes and nothing has worked. we tried the defrag, and error check but nothing happened. we’ve ordered new recovery disk from gateway that should be here in a couple of days. has anyone at all found the solution to this problem???????


    Hey Robert,

    You have told us to go to safe mode and run the scans, but in safe mode, the icons dissappear/re-appear again just like in normal windows mode. Anyone help?

    Thank you,, your help shall be appreciated.


    Justin, Joanie, and Tejas–

    At some point there are no other programs you can run to try to clean your system so you just have to bite the bullet and reinstall the operating system. Especially Justin, it seems like you are there because there are not many other programs that can help.

    Sorry for the bad news but the good news is that starting from scratch should help. Just be careful moving forward in terms of what you download and make sure to have a backup plan in place.



    hey Matt,

    does re-installing my OS re-format my hardrive? I have some of data and personal files on the hardrive, so does the reinstallation of my OS (windows xp SP2) cause the whole hardrive to be formatted?



    disregard my last post there Matt, as i have found a solution

    this also may help all you others who are expierncing the same problem

    after you log on and your icons/taskbar disappear, do Ctr+alt+del and click file>new task

    type in regedit.exe

    go to these folders in the exact order as they are listed







    Windows NT


    Current Version

    then just click on winlogon, don’t expand it

    then locate Shell on the right-hand side, right click and change its value to explorer.exe if it isn’t already. mine was already explorer.exe, but i retyped it and entered it and it worked.

    then restart your computer and hopefully this will all work for you!



    Reinstalling your operating system will cause you to lose all your information on your computer. It does not reformat it unless you request that to happen in the process but you will lose all your data.

    Also thank you for the tip I hope it helps out some of our other readers.



    ok so pretty much today sucks. so im siting here being bored playing with FL studio when all of a sudden my icons and start bar disappear. and i have called geeks apon geeks and they couldnt help me i have tried everything on here and nothings worked. i have come to the conclusion that it is a explorer / shell problem but the regedit isnt working so i dont know. and i absolutely can not restore my sestem because i have very import shit.. and its unreplaceable so ya im screwed huh. please if ANYONE has any alternatives please let me know. and if you will please title the email RE. COMP i will appreciate it. i just get hella junk mail so i want to know the difference thank you again.



    I resolved my problem guys.. All you have to do is keep using it for a month or two windows update will automatic detect it.. Its a trojan virus.. Just scan always for your antivirus and updates from windows.. I just cant believe it.. I night while I’m surfing it autorestart and said that there is a virus.. Would you believe that I didn’t do anything.. just maintain my norton antivirus and updates… so guys dont worry… this virus wont last long in your pcs.. Or if you cant wait to do this just simply reformat your pc I guess..


    Sorry if my English is bad. I’m Cypriot.

    I had the same problem 3 days ago. The problems started when I install to my laptop an antivirus called bitdefender. Every time I tried to open my Computer, the Blue error screen was coming up and tell me “UNMOUNTABLE_BOOT”. When I fixed this problem and I start my computer, the Taskbar and the Desktop icons disappeared every 10 seconds, until the disappear for good.

    I have tried many ways to fix the problem but nothing. First I Scan my computer with “AVG 7.5” and “Norton 360”,but nothing. Then I Scan my computer with “XoftSpySE”, again nothing. Scan with “RegistryFix” and “RegCure” nothing. I performed all the actions in “TuneUp Utilities 2008”, ScanDisk, defragment, restore and many others but nothing, nothing and again nothing. Yesterday I find a CD called “spotmau powersuite professional 2008” but again nothing happens. I tried to copy the file called “explorer.exe” from my sisters computer and paste to mine, but I only accomplished to make my taskbar and icons to go ON|OFF for ever and never stoped for good.
    At the end I’ve tried to Update my windows, and as I was searching the Internet for Tips on how to fix this error, I found an antivirus program called “CA Antivirus” and I decided to Install it to my Computer. After I ;ve install the antivirus to my computer the computer asked me to restart. After i restart it the problem was fixed


    My desktop icons and toolbar are continuously disappearing and reappearing every 5 seconds. They disappear together and then appear again together. They don’t show up when i turn on my laptop. But even when i run explorer.exe through task manager, the things mentioned above occur. Spybot,avg and some windows malware remover have managed to get rid of a trojan virus for me. I’ve also retyped my shell value and done a defragmentation, an error-checking and a system restore. What else can i do?
    I can’t reinstall windows because i’ve lost my windows installation cd and cannot rmb my serial no.
    Please help me!
    Thank you


    wow that really worked thanks anyways


    It is the Virtumundo virus and is sometimes called other things. It doesn’t show up with many popular spyware or antivirus utilities. I used spybot-search and destroy and then a utility called VirtumundoBeGone. Both can be found with a search or two. That is if you quickly get on the internet somehow. If I can do it anybody could. Just don’t give up and loose patience. I thank the people who spent time and effort to write these fixes. They will be rewarded for their kindness. Please work to do good things in everything you do.


    Windows XP Media, Samsung SyncMaster 920BW,Presario SR2020NX
    I have similar problem happens ocasionally. Startup after nighttime shutdown,no icons or taskbar shown. I found that restarting monitor only fixes it.
    Hope this helps someone—-Harv


      Posted a reply in 2008, but possibly didn’t clarify it enough. When restarting system after overnight complete shut-off, sometimes taskbar icons aren’t shown on Samsung LCD monitor. Just rebooting the monitor has always fixed it for us. Hope this helps—-Harv


    Don’t forget to shut off system restore before running Virtuamundobegone. Might have to do it a couple of times before you get all the bad files cleaned. Then don’t forget to turn it back on.




    Thanks Tejas. I had this problem with an XP Media Center PC. In the registry, the “Shell” value was completely blank. Once I changed the “Shell” registry setting and restarted explorer, an item appeared on the (now visible) system tray. It notified me that Windows had found a worm and automatically fixed it.

    This is just a guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Windows had found that worm and in fixing it, had blanked out the “Shell” setting. I’ve seen Windows break itself in Win ME, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the more consumer oriented versions of XP were equally inept.




    I have the same problem where the desktop and taskbar show for a few seconds and disappears. And when i try to get the taskmanager it says it has been disabled by the administrator.Please help me. thanks in advance.



    There are a lot of possible answers in the post and in the comments. Are you saying that none of those helped?


    Hey, I found the Virtuamonde Virus using Spybot S&D and now I am waiting for the scan to finish. I am pretty sure i will get my computer back to normal again.


    If none of the above works for you, don’t fret as there is a simple solution to ridding you of this problem. As I have done the steps above and found no solution, I finally came across something that came of a big importance. To those that cannot find the solution in the answer above, the problem lies within a trojan called Vundo which gives the same exact symptoms above. Icons disappearing from the desktop and taskbar disappears entirely only to come back for a few short seconds and restart until it either freezes or doesn’t restart at all giving you only your background. So as I was browsing through google I found Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware program. This little program got rid of the problem completely, and it was free to use. Just a few short moments ago my computer acted like it was on crack, now it’s running smooth. It also got rid of other crap that I didn’t even know I had. So good luck to all of you that are trying to find the solution to this and be very wary of files you download over the internet, as well.. update your Java because it has been reported that previous versions of Java have been taking advantage of. I hope this helps.


    Heed the words of the last response. Get Malwarebytes.

    I had the same exact problem as the individuals above, but I didn’t see one solution that consistently worked. It seems that this program fits that bill.

    For some reason, as my taskbar was going in and out, the wireless device wouldn’t boot up either, so I had to go to another computer and dl the program onto a Jump drive, and then run it from the ctrl-alt-del menu. Hope this helps everyone.

    Ps. Although slightly cynical, I was slightly relieved to know that I wasn’t the only one to whom this was happening.


    here is a website that can offer more directed (step-by-step) guidance for working w. the program.


    one of the teachers where I works is having this issue. I’m IT, and can’t seem to figure out why it’s doing what it’s doing.. We have deepfreeze installed, which, when frozen, resets all changes made to C: on boot. Thereby saving us from getting viruses and spyware. If we get a virus, restart the computer and no more virus. However, this teacher has been restarting every couple of hours, and still is having the issue. Her laptop stays frozen, but still, this has to be somewhere.. MalwareBytes may be good, but anything I do would reset on boot, which means that the issue might still be present. Any ideas anyone?


    What about the browser cookies and such. As I understand it will still load from the background connection. Just a thought.


    IF taskbar and Icons are missing, you can access programs folders etc by using the Windows key o the keyboard. It is the one with the windows “flag ont it, mostly commonly between the Alt and Ctrl keys. There are usually 2 identical buttons (on either side of the space bar – they are the same.

    Press the Windows button alone to pop up the Start menu.
    Press the Windows key and the letter E together and pop up “My Computer” folder from which you can access any folder or file. You can also move up a level to view the contents of your desktop – so all shortcuts etc are available to you.


    Thanks handlin. I never use the key shortcuts. Might be time to start. Even I can remember those maybe.


    Do you know that there is an option to show or not show the desktop icons? Sometimes that is the problem. The location of the option is shown below.
    Right click your desktop, point to Arrange Icons By; in the 3rd group of menu options is one named “Show Desktop Icons.” If there is no check mark before it, click it to turn it on. There should be a check mark before it now.


    You could try CTRL + ALT + DELETE then click NEW TASK then type in EXPLORER. This should bring your taskbar and icons back.