The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 110.2 points, or 0.62 percent, at 17,972.38, with Cisco leading gains and American Express the greatest of six blue chip laggards.
The credit card company fell about 6 percent on news that Costco will not accept American Express in the United States starting next April, after the two companies failed to reach an agreement on renewal terms.
The S&P 500 closed up 19.92 points, or 0.96 percent, at 2,088.45, with materials leading gains and utilities and telecommunications the only two laggards. The industrials sector gained to close positive for the year.
The Nasdaq closed up 56.43 points, or 1.18 percent, to 4,857.61, its highest level since March 2000.
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Four stocks advanced for every decliner on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 736 million and a composite volume of nearly 3.7 billion in the close.
High-frequency trading accounted for 47.5 percent of February daily trade volume of about 7.3 billion shares, according to TABB Group. During the peak levels of high-frequency trading in 2009, about 61 percent of 9.8 billion of average daily shares traded were executed by high-frequency traders.
Gold futures settled up $1.10, or 0.09 percent, to $1,220.70.
The U.S. 10-year Treasury yield traded near 1.99 percent. The U.S. dollar reversed to gain against major world currencies.
In central bank news, Sweden lowered interest rates and announced a 10 billion kronor ($1.2 billion) bond-buying program while the Bank of England hinted a rate hike could come next year.
Breakfast cereal giant Kellogg reported lower-than-expected quarterly sales as weak demand in Europe and Asia Pacific overshadowed a revival in U.S. sales.
Online travel agency Expedia said early Thursday it would buy rival Orbitz Worldwide at $12 a share for total of about $1.33 billion, as it looks to increase its customers base in a highly competitive industry.
Time gave a downbeat sales outlook for 2015, on weaker circulation. Time, which publishes magazines like People and Sports Illustrated, sees a three to six percent drop in revenue this year, more than the consensus forecast for a two percent decline. Time earned an adjusted 73 cents per share for its latest quarter, five cents below estimates.
Avon Products earned an adjusted 20 cents per share for its latest quarter, missing estimates by five cents, and revenue was also below analyst projections. Currency fluctuations had a significant impact on Avon's results, and the company said that will continue to be the case this year as it does most of its business outside the U.S.
McGraw-Hill Financial, the parent of Standard and Poor's, earned 95 cents per share for its latest quarter, a five-cent beat, while revenue was above estimates as well.
In other corporate news, Tesla unexpectedly reported a quarterly loss after the bell on Wednesday, but shares rose in after-hours trade on better-than-expected shipments.
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Among the few remaining companies yet to post earnings, AIG, Kraft Foods and Groupon report after the bell.
CNBC's Peter Schacknow and Reuters contributed to this report.