And oil pricessharply fell amid concern about a reduction in demand and rising interest rates. London Brent crudefell more than 3 percent to nearly $117, while U.S. light crude fell nearly 3 percent to nearly $106.
Silver futures continued to plungeto less than $37 an ounce, while gold futures fell more than 1.5 percent, dropping to $1,497 an ounce.
(Read more: Silver a Warning Sign for Everyone?)
In earnings news, General Motors traded flat to slightly lower despite beating both profit and revenue expectations. The once bankrupt automaker credited sales in North America and Asia for the gains.
And the Nasdaq got a lift from a strong performance by Electronic Arts , which soundly beat earnings expectations for its fiscal fourth quarter. Wedbush raised the video game maker's price target to $27 a share from $21.50, while S&P Equity raised the company to "sell" from "strong sell."
And JDS Uniphase soared after beatings estimates with a profit in its fiscal third quarter on solid revenue gains.
CVS Caremark was slightly higher despite reporting a higher-than-expected profit for the quarter, driven by pharmacy services sales.
News Corp gained despite delivering results after the market closed Wednesday that missed expectations.
But Whole Foods Market jumped after beating expectations.
Of the 419 companies reporting earnings so far, representing 84 percent of all S&P 500 companies, 68 percent beat earnings expectations and 67 percent beat revenue expectations.
Cisco rose after news the tech company is streamliningits sales, services and engineering operations.
Many retail stores did better in Aprilthan analysts had expected, according to monthly sales reports, although retailers say they face headwinds from rising costs, higher gas prices, and slow job gains. Sales for 25 retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters gained 8.9 percent in April, better than the 8.2 percent forecasted.
Several retailers beat expectations, including Gap, Macy's, Abercrombie & Fitch and Limited. While, Nordstrom's and Target missed.
On the economic front, initial claims for unemployment rose 43,000 to 474,000 from an upwardly revised 431,000 the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected claims to drop to 410,000.
Claims are at the highest level since mid-August. The four-week moving average of unemployment claims rose by 22,250 to 431,250, the highest since November.
The news comes a day after a report showing a slowdown in the pace of private payroll growth and a decline in job cuts.
The closely-watched monthly nonfarm payroll report from the government for April will be reported on Friday. Economists expect the nation added 186,000 jobs.
Nonfarm productivity in the first quarter, meanwhile, rose at a 1.6 percent annual rate, down from a 2.9 percent pace in the fourth quarter, the Labor Department also reported.
European shares closed lower, dragged down by banks.
On Tap This Week:
THURSDAY: Treasury STRIPS, money supply; Fed's Kocherlakota speaks, UPS shareholder meeting, Verizon shareholder meeting; earnings 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.
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