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Lost your Windows XP taskbar and desktop icons?

May 1, 2008

A program called explorer.exe controls the display of your taskbar and desktop icons. If for some reason it goes missing (you may have killed it using Task Manager, for example, or something more sinister like a virus has deleted it from your processes), then try this first:

  1. Open Task Manager (press Ctrl+Alt+Del, then click Task Manager).
  2. On the Applications tab, click New Task at the bottom right of the window.
  3. Type explorer.exe, then click OK.

If nothing sinister caused it to disappear, it should all come back as it was and you can stop panicking, breathe a sigh of relief, and continue working.

If that doesn’t work, then try this:

  1. Open Task Manager (press Ctrl+Alt+Del, then click Task Manager).
  2. Go to the Processes tab.
  3. Click on the Image Name column header to sort the list alphabetically.
  4. Find all explorer.exe processes — select each, then click End Process for each one.
  5. On the Applications tab, click New Task at the bottom right of the window.
  6. Type explorer.exe, then click OK.

Update: 11 June 2008: I’ve found that sometimes SnagIt causes my taskbar to disappear. I’ve noticed it when I have a lot of Windows open and am trying to do a capture and SnagIt gets ‘hung’. Using Task Manager to shut down SnagIt and restart it often brings my taskbar back. Of course, if you don’t have SnagIt installed then that won’t solve your problem!

Update: 8 August 2008: This still occurs with SnagIt 9… I had thought that maybe they might have fixed it.

Update: 18 August 2008: I contacted SnagIt’s Technical Support a week or so ago, and got this suggested solution back from them. I haven’t tried it yet.

Disable the SnagIt shell extension to see if this helps:

  1. Close all open programs.
  2. Go to Start > Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs.
  3. Locate SnagIt in the list and click the Change button.
  4. Choose Modify and click Next.
  5. Click the drop-down arrow next to Windows Explorer Menu Extension, then select Entire feature will be unavailable.
  6. Click Next, then complete the wizard.

61 comments

  1. [...] computer. After logging in, I had lost my Vista taskbar and icons! The trick for restoring it is similar to that for Windows XP, but with an extra step [...]


  2. Having exactly that problem but explorer does not work.
    The virus checker reports that there is nothing untoward currently on the system.
    As unable to get to control panel the normal way is it possible to get there another way? and would going to a restore point from before the proble occured be worth trying?


  3. Hi Richard

    Try this step before #2: Kill all Explorer.exe processes before restarting a new one. I found that this worked for Vista, and seem to recall I had to use it once for XP too. Worth a try. Let me know if that works — if it does, I’ll add that step to the list too.


  4. Hi again Richard

    If you do need to go back to a restore point, you should be able to get to the Control Panel by pressing the Windows key (equivalent to the START button).

    As an aside, if you need to open the System dialog from the Run box, you would type ‘sysdm.cpl’ (without the quotes).


  5. Hi All
    HELP!
    Have same problem – no Desktop/taskbar. Task manager says explore(r).exe not found, also not one of processes running; windows button (with flag) non-operational, so no control panel; have run a/v – nothing. How do I find explorer, or what others have suggested, the viral win.exe.
    In other words, please, WHAT DO I DO NOW?


  6. Update: I found the application ‘explorer.exe’ in the Windows folder, but TM can’t open it, says it can’t find it. But it IS there!
    BTW, the capitals before are not a shout but a scream of desperation!
    to clarify previous post – all processes are running in TM except explorer.


  7. Hi Leo

    Did you try the steps I left in the Comments for Richard?

    Also, have you tried shutting down and restarting the computer? This often gets things running again especially if you cannot identify what the cause was.

    BTW, I’m not a system administrator or a computer geek, so I only shared these suggestions as they worked for me when I had this problem.


  8. Hello all,
    I recently ran into this problem with the start menu, Taskbar and desktop icons disappearing. Although it was only occuring when I would shut down the Skype application in my tool bar. This is something I normally do if I don’t plan on using the application. This seemed to start happening after the installation of SP3 but I am not 100% on that. Anyhow this was only happening when I would exit Skype and close it down.

    I have unistalled the Skype application V 3.8 I believe and am now in the discovery process to see if this has resolved this problem or not. I will update a response to this if indeed this was the cause. I could have tried an update but I have been doing alot of that lately and need to isolate the problem first.


  9. if no icons, no start bar on any user
    and applications work fine from run window
    then

    Check on regedit
    HKLM\Software\microsoft\windows nt\currentversion
    the Shell value must be Reg_SZ and have value=”explorer.exe”

    if not, doble clic on it and change value


  10. I am having the same problem. just ran virus scan found 278 trojan viruses. removed them now all I see is cute little picture of 3 kittens (NOT). I tried crl,alt,del but a message comes up that admin has turned access to task manager.

    Any help would be great


  11. Your 2nd part recommendation worked 100% Thanks!

    If that doesn’t work, then try this:

    1. Open Task Manager (press Ctrl+Alt+Del, then click Task Manager).
    2. Go to the Processes tab.
    3. Click on the Image Name column header to sort the list alphabetically.
    4. Find all explorer.exe processes — select each, then click End Process for each one.
    5. On the Applications tab, click New Task at the bottom right of the window.
    6. Type explorer.exe, then click OK.


  12. [...] Lost your Windows XP taskbar and desktop (10,138) [...]


  13. Just a hunch,I’m having the same problem after installing norton ghost 15. I have disabled the task bar icons. I’ll let you know if it worked. The restart explorer trick didn’t work for me.


  14. Ok, so I tried the first step and it didn’t work because my computer couldn’t find explorer.exe. So… I tried the secind step and I couldn’t find anything that was explorer. Is explorer anything with the .exe behind it or does it have another name to it?

    I tried deleting one but the computer warned me that if i shut something off, it can result in lost off data and instability and junk like that so I didn’t risk it.


  15. Lots of thanks. I have wasted many hours before i came to this really simple solution. cheers


  16. WHEW!! i thought the computer has a virus or something! :)) thx!


  17. Second opition worked! Thank you


  18. Thanks for the SnagIt tip. I actually came here because my personal laptop is having the problem with explorer starting at power up, but I have had right-click menu issues with Explorer windows on my work laptop. I didn’t even think of SnagIt being integrated into the shell. I’m going to try this on my other computers that have SnagIt installed, too.

    Now to work on the personal laptop that has the more major issue…


  19. My XP glitch has an added wrinkle, in that I can’t get Task Manager to come up when I hit ctrl alt del!

    My machine only displays the desktop image that was installed a few years ago (no icons or taskbar), and is otherwise unresponsive to commands (or the responses are masked by the image).
    I tried starting in safe mode and going to last known good configuration without success.

    No idea how to get to settings or search from an unresponsive desktop!


  20. Hey Rhonda,

    I lost my taskbar only due to a antivirus scan..Tried ur second step…d taskbar appeared only to disappear after a split second…Plzzzzzzzz help…


  21. Hi Monisha

    If neither tips 1 nor 2 work, try shutting down and rebooting your computer.

    –Rhonda


  22. I don’t know if anyone reads this anymore but you, my friend, are a hero!


  23. This was infinitely helpful and easy. Thank you so much.


  24. I am having the same problem: no toolbar, no desktop, no icons. I can access the task manager but when I try the fixes above it does not find explorer.exe. I’ve tried all the suggestions above without success. Any other alternatives. Please help.


  25. [...] Lost your Windows XP taskbar and desktop icons? [...]


  26. my pc has windows xp installed.whenever i open the computer it has all its icons & taskbar at place. if i work on pc it dont have any problem but if i leave the computer for a few seconds all the icons & taskbar disappear only wallpaper is there.no key workseven if i press ctrl+alt+del nothing happens. pls help me as i dont know how to solve this problem.


  27. When it’s just got the wallpaper, do you get any response when you just move the mouse? Do the icons and task bar come back then? If so, it’s likely to do with your screen saver and/or power settings.

    Quick things to check:
    * Time set for the screen saver/wallpaper to kick in. Go to Start > Control Panel > Display > Screen Saver tab and check the Wait time you have set. (Note: If you have ‘(none)’ as the screen saver, the Wait field is grayed out.)
    * While you’re in that tab, click Power and look at the times set in the Power Schemes tab.

    Assuming there’s nothing odd in those settings above, I’d be thinking that there’s something nasty happening and would run a complete virus scan, malware scan, and spyware scan, just to make sure the computer is ‘clean’.

    Other than that, I’m out of ideas.

    –Rhonda


  28. I had a similar problem. I booted up and only had the background ( green Hills) no icons, no task bar.

    I rebooted in safe mode and did a system restore to a previous date. That done it rebooted fine.


  29. I had this problem and this sorted it out. Cheers


  30. I lost the desktop icons in XP. Task bar is ok. Still tried all the suggested fixes. Still no icons. Also, when I right click on desktop, I cannot get to properties. Any other suggestions out there?


  31. I just read all this right down to Chris Thorn’s comment. Then did what he did – right clicked on my desktop and found the option ‘Arrange Icons By’ I idly clicked on ir and down at the bottom was a ‘Show Desktop Icons’ option – so I clicked it! It wasn’t ticked… and now it is.. and all the icons are back! How simple is that (am I!). So very relieved. Hope that simple fix helps someone.


  32. Thank so much x


  33. Lost the task bar in XP, didn’t find a clue until I googled it and found your directions,…worked like a charm. Additionally to clear up a point: if there is only one explorer.exe in the processes list in Task Manager, delete it, open a new task as described and enter ‘explorer.exe’ and if your working directly from the desk top it will pop up immediately. Thank you for the great ‘fixit’ tip.


  34. The second solution worked for me, thanks!


  35. Pls try this…remove video card and plug vga cable to onboard vga-in….HELLO ICONS….Good LUCK!


  36. Thanks Carol Palmer !


  37. Thanks a TON!!!!


  38. Thank you…Helped me a lot :)


  39. My desktop icons disappear whenever i power on my pc…..


  40. Thanks for the help.


  41. hi i am in the same problem no task bar and no desktop icons
    when i go to end task on explorer .exe warning about losing data and unstable system comes up . has anyone used the “end task ” and did you lose any data
    peter c


  42. Hi Peter

    I’ve used this method often in Windows XP and as far as I know I’ve never lost data.

    –Rhonda


  43. thanks rhonda i can see my programmes but cant get to them and it driving me mad and didnt want to do anything if i could lose them .

    reards peter


  44. Hi Rhonda
    i did what has been recommonded and the icons came back but when i click on the hour glass starts but stops and dont get to programme ,
    though i would do a system restore but when i click on system restore in acceries nothing happens , same with any programme!!!
    can anyone help!!!!!!!!!!!!!.


  45. Hi Peter

    It sounds like something more serious is happening here. I’d suggest you do a complete scan for viruses, malware, and spyware. If you’re still having issues, then you may need to take your machine to a reputable service company (or let your system administrator know if this is your work computer).

    –Rhonda


  46. “”Thank you so much”” I was stuck and I don’t know why but I tried it and it worked like in seconds, I wasn’t even sure how to word it but the way I did word it apparently your system understood THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!


  47. I lost my icons and taskbar from screen whever i start desktop window gets open but no taskbar and icon of my computer and broadband icons on screen i tried and whenever i press rightbutton of mouse on screen there is no option coming (NEW, Refresh, Properties) what do i do.


  48. I lost my desktop icons.

    On desktop I did right click and refresh and they all came back. Phew!


  49. my desktop icon is lost and a window is showing something like “NetSupport Client” is appearing.

    can i ask for help.
    thanks


  50. oh Thanx to Allah and thanx to you my Problem Solved


  51. I was having problems with the safely remove hardware icon missing from the taskbar. Someone had posted a rundll32 that would open the item back up and put the icon back on taskbar. That is when I noticed other icons missing. Tried your solution, task manager, stop explorer.exe, then restart explorer.exe. Only thing that happened, my documents would come up. I stopped explorer.exe and stopped the rundll32, then restarted explorer.exe. Everything came back like it was supposed to be. Many thanks, saved me alot of headaches…


  52. Thanks Ben. Worked like a charm.


  53. How do i start up in safe mode using the task manager? Nothing above has worked so far.


  54. Hi Steve

    You need to restart your computer, then press the F8 key multiple times as it’s booting (this is LONG before your get the Microsoft logo).

    See here for the XP instructions from Microsoft: http://www.microsoft.com/resources/documentation/windows/xp/all/proddocs/en-us/boot_failsafe.mspx?mfr=true

    –Rhonda


  55. i dont have any folders on windows xp destkop i think that i have delete the program recycle bin, my documents and when i click the right mouse it only appears refresh and properties :( only chrom.exe open and there is no voice

    can you help me please ??


  56. When i press ctrl+Alt+Del there task manager is disabled


  57. Hi Biba

    Do you have admin rights to your machine or are you working in a locked down corporate environment? If you’re in a corporate environment, talk to you IT people.

    If it’s your own machine: Have you rebooted the machine? Run antivirus, antimalware, and antispyware software?

    –Rhonda


  58. Re: Missing Taskbar icons, especially Power Manager.

    When XP boots it starts the automatic user logon process (explorer.exe) before finishing loading the network. This creates a “race condition” when the logon process is trying to draw the taskbar icons while the system process is still initializing networking (and its icons, especially wi-fi.) Meanwhile, drawing of “less important” icons times out before networking is done and that’s how you get missing icons.

    You will remember that this problem did not exist in Win2k. That’s because Win2k loaded its networking stack before starting the user logon. There is a way to revert XP to Win2k-like behavior:

    1. Open Run dialog (Windows+R) & type gpedit.msc, press Enter. Group Policy Editor starts.

    2. In the left pane navigate to Computer Configuration – Administrative Templates – System – Logon.

    3. In the right pane find “Always wait for the network at computer startup and logon”. Double-click and select Enabled, hit OK, close GPE.

    4. Reboot. Now XP will boot-up Win2k-style: first all the system stuff, then the user logon.

    P.S. Group Policy Editor is a nifty hidden program that can change a lot of other cool settings, like Autoplay/Autorun for example. Have a look around and read the descriptions.


  59. Hi Rhonda,
    When I start up my laptop, I don’t get my icons or my toolbar. It takes several tries to get everything restored to how it properly should be and I don’t know why. I’ve had the laptop a few years but I haven’t been using it actively until recently, so I’m not sure if it’s just warming up to the use or what? I tried the above, but I still had to keep turning it off and on until it caught. Do you have any idea what might be up with it? Thanks much.
    -Nikki


  60. Sorry Nikki — I have no idea. I suggest you talk to someone in a computer repair shop or at your workplace who might know.

    –Rhonda


  61. Hi Rhonda,
    Same problem.No Taskbar, but the desktop icon was there.. how can i bring back my taskbar,the auto-hide taskbar is unchecked. I tried anything but nothing happens.Hope find this a solution.Thanks!

    -Christian



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