A separate report showed that the U.S. trade deficit narrowed to its lowest level in almost two years as exports rose to a record high.
There was also encouraging news from Europe, where leaders shocked markets a day earlier with a dire forecast for economic growth next year.
European Central Bank head Mario Draghi said financial market confidence "has visibly improved" as the 17-country group that uses the euro struggles with its debt crisis. But he said the outlook for the economy remains "weak." Draghi spoke after the bank's governing council left its key interest rate unchanged at 0.75 percent.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, on Wednesday slashed its outlook for growth for this year and 2013. The report helped set off a sharp decline in stocks in the U.S and Europe.
Spain's government said that it had met its financing needs for the year after raising the equivalent of $6.07 billion in a series of bond auctions on Thursday. Spain became the focal point of the European debt crisis earlier this year amid concern that it would struggle to refinance its debt at affordable rates.
Among stocks making big moves:
— Energy drink maker Monster Beverage sank 57 cents to $44.40 after the company said its revenue growth slowed in the third quarter.
— Kayak Software surged in after-hours trading, gaining $8.14 to $39.18, after the travel website agreed to be bought by Priceline.com for $40 a share.
— Burger chain Wendy's rose 13 cents to $4.39 after the company said that a key sales figure rose. Revenue at restaurants open at least 15 months rose 2.7 percent, the sixth straight quarter of growth.
— CBS rose 36 cents to $34.36 after the company said that earnings rose 16 percent as falling ad revenue was offset by higher fees from pay TV distributors.