The Labor Department reported jobless claims fell by 10,000 to 340,000 last week, with a backlog in California reportedly cleared.
Shares of Starbucks fell after the coffee retailer reported sales growth contracted in Asia. Visa declined after the card-payment network reported less-than-expected revenue. Expedia and Facebook both gained after reported quarterly earnings that exceeded estimates.
On Wednesday, The Federal Reserve prompted talk that it would start reducing stimulus in the months ahead by maintaining its $85-billion-a-month bond-purchasing program, but eliminated some dovish language from its statement, including comments highlighting its concern about tightening financial conditions, a reason cited for maintaining easing in September.
The central bank also removed its warning about higher mortgage rates and did not sound as negative on the economy as some had expected.
"Our view continues to be that the market will swing between taper fear and complacency over the coming months but that at the end of the day, they (the Fed) will under-deliver on tapering relative to expectations," said Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid and Anthony Ip in a research note on Thursday.
In addition, the ADP employment report for October came in worse than forecast on Wednesday, with only a 130,000 gain to private non-farm payrolls.
European bank stocks rose on Thursday, boosted by forecast-beating earnings from France's BNP Paribas. Plus, shares of Alcatel-Lucent surged by as much as 14 percent after the French telecom giant posted a revenue rise of 7 percent and a narrower net loss than in the previous year.
In Asia, markets were largely unmoved by the Bank of Japan's widely expected decision to leave its monetary stimulus program unchanged.
(Read more: The verdict on Abenomics, one year on)
—By CNBC's Katy Barnato