Situation: Windows Vista, latest updates. After restarting to complete an installation, I find myself looking at a totally black windows desktop without any icons. The start menu and taskbar, including quickstart icons, appears. Some, but not all task bar tray icons appear. The systems seems stable.

When I open Windows Explorer and click "desktop" in the folder treeview, the cursor immediately jumps back to the previously selected item. No error. Same when clicking on my user's profile or my documents. When I try "save as" in, say, Notepad, nothing happens, the dialog box (which defaults to "my documents") doesn't even show. Again, no error.

Nothing serious afaict in the event log. Typing something in Start > Search shows "Search failed to initialize". Most programs, including Internet Explorer, Firefox etc work as expected.

Anybody ever encountered such abomination?


Possible causes
A few hours later, I noticed that more and more windows messaging functions weren't working anymore. Clicking anything in windows explorer had the effect of momentarily flashing a new windows, which disappeared immediately. Clicking the black "desktop" hid all the windows, which I could bring back by click them on the taskbar. Restarting the computer, several (external) malware and virus scans didn't come up with anything.

In the event log, I noticed that before restarting, spoolsvc.exe had held a reference in the registry (leaked reg key) which was forced-closes. I had just plugged in (not installed!) a Samsung all-in-one laser printer SCX-4216F. Printers are tightly integrated to windows explorer and the Printers element in the start menu was missing...

Not sure if anything is related to the actual issues. Just experimenting, I decided to restart Windows Explorer: I killed explorer.exe in the task manager and then started it again. For one reason or another, that magically showed my precious desktop, fixed "Search" and "Printers" and normalized typical Windows Explorer behavior.

(I answered this myself in case anybody googles the same issue, which hasn't been logged anywhere yet, afaict.)

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