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The user profile may be corrupt. After it boots up, try pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL and see if a menu comes up that allows you to start the task manager. If it does allow you to start the task manager, you can try clicking "File" then "New Task" then type "explorer.exe" and then click OK to see if it brings up a desktop. You can also type "iexplore.exe" and see if it launches the browser. If any of this works, then use the task manager to launch "control.exe" (control panel) and use it to create an new administrator account if you only have one account active. Then restart the machine and log in as the new user you just created and see if it loads the desktop. If this is successful you can just use the new account and copy any files needed from the old corrupted profile.
Another thing to try if you can invoke explorer.exe is to open My Computer, right-click on the system drive and try and run the disk error check from the tools tab. It will tell you it cannot do so and ask if you want to schedule the check for the next time Window is started. Select "automatically fix errors" and check OK. Restart the machine and see if the disk checking utility finds and corrects the problem.
Pretty vague help request "can't get back to desktop". Is the computer booting? Is it that your desktop is blank after it boots with no icons being shown on the desktop? Viruses can hide the desktop and other things on the computer. Maybe your boot process has the problem when it tried to display the desktop. Try hitting the CTRL+ALT+DEL keys. Hold down each key as you hit them and don't take your finger off the keys until after you have pressed the DEL (Delete) Key. This will bring up your Task Manager. In the task manager window click the Processes tab and look for explorer.exe. If you see it click explorer.exe to highlight it then click End Process. After you end the process click FILE at the top left corner of the Task Manager Window and click the option New Task (run). When the Create New Task window opens type: explorer.exe and press OK. This will cause your desktop to reappear with icons if windows had a problem displaying it on the boot process.
If you boot your computer, and after loggin in you receive a Black Screen but are still able to see the mouse move, try bringing up your tsk mngr (Ctrl+Alt+Del) then go to proccess' and click end proccess on explorer.exe then go to applications and press new task then type in explorer.exe, this should solve the problem, if not then I am sorry, that is what solved my problem.
Check the RAM modules and make sure they're sell seated in their slots. If that doesn't work you might try this.
Bring up task manager Ctrl+Alt+Delete and click the applications tab Click on "New Task" type in explorer.exe and click okay. If it boots up run malwarebytes available here www.malwarebytes.org run full scan and delete anything it catches. Good luck
Bring up task manager (Ctrl+Alt+Delete) click applications tab click new task type in explorer.exe then click okay If it boots up go to www.malwarebytes.org and download the free version. Install, update, and run a full scan. Delete anything it finds. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. Good luck
Try to boot Vista into Safe Mode. Tap the F8 Key right after you turn on the computer until you get the Advanced Boot Up Menu
and use the keyboard arrow keys to select Safe Mode. The next screen may ask you to select your operating systm. Select Vista, not the Recovery Console.
Does your task bar and icons appear in safe mode? If so, it might be one of your start up programs that is failing and causing explorer.exe to fail during normal boot-up into Windows and not allowing your taskbar and icons to appear. Click Start and type in msconfig and hit enter then click the Start Up tab and look at all the programs that start up when Vista is starting up. Do Not uncheck anything in the list that you do not recognize as you may uncheck drivers or Vista starting programs that you computer needs to start up Vista properly. Google anything you don't recognize and uncheck any Start Up programs you do not need to start when Vista boots up, like Quicktime player or Adobe Reader for example. (This would also help your boot up time into Vista)
Sounds like explorer.exe crashed. Try opening up the Task Manager again, and Click File > New Task and type in explorer.exe. See if the task bar and your desktop icons appear.
If they appear for a brief moment then disappear again, the Windows explorer.exe is corrupted. Explorer.exe will try to start and then fail again. You may need to use System Restore to bring your computer back to a date and time when the computer was working properly, before the Vista update.