The Dow Jones Industrial Average erased most of the day's losses, finishing down 17.98 points, or 0.1 percent, at 16,444.76.
The S&P 500 was little changed, gaining less than 1 point to end at 1,838.13, with telecommunications and energy the leading laggards and health care and utilities performing best of its 10 sectors.
The Nasdaq remained in the red, losing 9.42 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,156.19.
Macy's surged after the department-store chain projected profit that surpassed estimates. Bed Bath & Beyond fell sharply after forecasting earnings that missed expectations.
Alcoa shares fell. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday said it had charged the aluminum producer with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, saying its "subsidiaries repeatedly paid bribes to government officials in Bahrain."
Alcoa, which reports quarterly results after Thursday's close, agreed to pay $384 million to settle the SEC charges and a separate case announced by the U.S. Department of Justice.
For every seven shares falling, eight gained on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 697 million shares traded. Composite volume topped 3.6 billion.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude futures lost 61 cents to finish at an eight-month low of $91.66 a barrel; gold futures rose $3.90 to settle at $1,229.40 an ounce.
The dollar edged lower against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell 3 basis points to 2.964 percent.
A much stronger-than-expected employment report would likely take the 10-year yield "above 3.034 percent, the recent high, and stocks will be put to the test," emailed Elliot Spar, market strategist at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co.
"There are still worries if interest rates jump up dramatically that could impact the housing market and consumer spending could get hit. If you revert to the mean, 5 percent is a more normalized level for the 10-year; that's not going to happen overnight, I could see it going to 3.5 percent and perhaps even higher before the end of the year, and the market could adjust to that," said Gaffney at EverBank.