Stocks closed narrowly mixed after a volatile session marked by a sell-off in commodity prices and fluctuations in the price of the dollar against major currencies.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged up only 0.15 points, or 0.001 percent, to close at 12,807.51.
Among Dow components, Pfizer and Chevron fell, while Alcoa and Bank of America rose.
The S&P 500 fell 4.60 points, or 0.34 percent, to close at 1,356.62, while the Nasdaq sank 22.46 points, or 0.8 percent, to close at 2,841.62. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market,rose to nearly 17.
Among key S&P sectors, energy and materials declined, while telecom advanced.
Commodities were in focus as silver futures tumbled nearly 10 percentat one point amid heavy volume. Silver futures for May delivery ended 7.6 percent lower at $42.58. The CME is raising margin requirements for silver after the market closes Tuesday. Gold also sank, falling more than 1 percent to close at $1,540.
The Dow Jones UBS Commodities Indexfell more than 1 percent.
Oil prices also declined. London Brent crude fell 2.13 percent to close at $122.45, while U.S. light crude fell 2.18 percent to $111.05.
The dollar, meanwhile, which is hovering near a three-year low against a basket of currencies, traded flat after starting the session higher.
Investors may be profit taking after a strong run-up in commodities prices, said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial.
They are largely moving money into cash until they have a better sense of the market's direction, Krosby added.
"I think investors are watching to see where the dollar is headed, any direction from the (Federal Reserve) post-meeting, and global demand," she said.
Another factor in the markets Tuesday was a 50 basis point rate hike in India, which some investors took as a sign of slowing global growth. U.S. companies have strongly benefited from sales gains overseas, often in emerging markets.
In corporate news, shares of Alcoa surged amid talk that Rio Tinto was planning to buy the aluminum producer. Neither company would comment on the rumors, but activity in the options market also heated up as traders speculated on the deal.
GM gained after reporting a 27 percent jump in April sales,much more than expected, thanks to strong sales of small cars, including the Chevrolet Cruze, and crossover vehicles. Ford traded flat after reporting a 16.4 percent gain in April sales, its highest number since December.
And Nissan fell slightly after the Japanese automaker said its sales rose 12.7 percent in April from a year earlier. Rival Toyota fell after reporting its sales fell 2.4 percent in April from a year ago, which was less than expected.
Overall, automakers are expected to show a 16 percent increase in sales for April, according to a Thomson Reuters survey, as problems caused by the multiple disasters in Japanweren't expected to show up in new auto purchases until May.
Among tech stocks, semiconductor makers Nvidia and Micron Technologies contributed to the Nasaq's decline, with shares of both down 4 percent.
Sony shares also slipped after the PlayStation maker revealed that hackers may have stolen the data of another 25 million accounts in a second massive security breach.
Earnings results continued to be released on Tuesday and of the 359 companies reporting so far, representing 72 percent of all S&P 500 companies, 70 percent beat earnings estimates and 69 percent beat revenue estimates, according to Thomson Reuters.
Pfizer slipped after falling short of revenue expectations, although the pharmaceutical company's results were a penny ahead of estimates.
Mastercard gained after the credit card processing company reported a jump in profits. In addition, at least two brokerages raised their price targets on the firm.
But Archer Daniels Midland sank even after the agricultural food processor met earnings expectations and exceeded revenue estimates.
Beazer Homes tumbled more than 5 percent after the homebuilder reported a larger-than-expected loss because orders for new homes fell, reflecting continued weakness in the housing industry.
And Clorox and Molson Coors Brewing each fell after both firms reported lower net income compared to the same period last year. The consumer goods maker and beverage company both blamed higher costs for raw materials for the decline.
Sirius XM Radio jumped almost 10 percent after the satellite radio provider's revenue was boosted by more subscribers, but it said lower car sales in the wake of the earthquake in Japan could hurt its subscriber growth this year.
Legg Mason tumbled despite reporting an 8 percent profit gain.
And Sears slid after the clothing retailer forecasted a loss. Meanwhile, S&P Equity cut its price target on the firm to $71 from $90.
Comcast , CBS and Green Mountain Coffee were expected to release results after the market closes.
In M&A news, Total, a European energy firm, launched a friendly offer for solar-power company SunPower .
Volume on the consolidated tape of the New York Stock Exchange was 4.4 billion shares, while 1 billion changed hands on the NYSE floor.
In the day's economic news, factory orders gained 3 percent to a seasonally adjusted $463 billion in March, the Commerce Department reported. The gain was the fifth in a row, and was above the 1.9 percent gain estimated by economists polled by Reuters.
And a survey by Charles Schwab indicated 72 percent of so-called active traders who are receiving a tax refund plan plan to invest the proceeds in the stock market. Schwab defines active traders as individual investors who trade at least 36 times a year.
Schwab also said 47 percent of its active traders are bullish, up from 38 percent in November, and up from 28 percent in April 2010.
Stocks in Asiaended the day mostly lower with Japanese markets closed. European shares closed down as mining and oil stocks fell.
On Tap This Week:
TUESDAY: Earnings after-the-bell from Comcast and CBS.
WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage applications, Challenger job-cut report, Fed's Rosengren speaks, ADP employment report, ISM non-manufacturing index, oil inventories, Fed's Lockhart speaks; earnings before-the-bell from Anheuser-Busch, AOL, Kellogg, and Time Warner, and after-the-bell from Electronic Arts, MetLife, News Corp, Transocean and Whole Foods.
THURSDAY: Bank of England rate announcement, European Central Bank announcement, chain store sales, jobless claims, productivity and costs, Treasury STRIPS, money supply; Fed Chairman Bernanke speaks, Fed's Kocherlakota speaks, UPS shareholder meeting, Verizon shareholder meeting; earnings before-the-bell from GM, Cigna, CVS Caremark and after-the-bell from AIG, Kraft and Visa.
FRIDAY: Non-farm payroll report, consumer credit, Alcoa shareholder meeting, flash crash anniversary; earnings before-the-bell from Constellation Energy and tentatively after-the-bell from Berkshire Hathaway.
More on CNBC.com