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"I think more than anything else at this point investors want an indication that the selloff is over or just a prelude that the worst is rest to come," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank.
"I think it's about the overhang in the markets than the current news," he said.
Both the Dow and S&P had five days of gains or losses of more than 2 percent in August, making it the most volatile month in nearly four years.
The major averages ended Friday with gains for the week with historic intra-week reversals. However, they posted August losses of more than 6 percent each, their worst month in at least three years.
On Monday, the Dow Jones industrial average closed about 115 points lower after earlier falling as much as 198.96 points. The index ended less than 0.10 percent away from correction (trading at 16,516.22 or below) after dipping in and out on an intraday basis.
The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite remained out of correction.
The major averages briefly more than halved losses in midday trade as oil prices surged for a third day in a row.
"Oil has helped us come off the lows," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. He also noted some support for investor sentiment from greater consensus in Fed policymaker comments and solid U.S. GDP figures last week.
The energy sector turned positive in midday trade, briefly rising more than 1 percent, to lead S&P 500 gains after earlier losing more than 2 percent.
Oil reversed an early decline to settle up 8.8 percent at $49.20 a barrel, more than wiping out August losses of nearly 20 percent and posting its best three-day rally since the three days ending Aug. 6, 1990.The gains came on news the about low oil prices in its publication issued Monday.
Brent crude also jumped about 6.5 percent to briefly trade above $53.70 a barrel.
While China is a factor for stocks, "I think in the meantime it's more Fed-related, particularly on anticipation of this Friday's jobs report," said Mark Luschini, chief investment officer at Janney Montgomery Scott.
Federal Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer told CNBC on Friday from the Jackson Hole symposium that it was too early to determine whether last week's market turmoil would impact the likelihood of a rate hike next month.
He added in a Saturday speech that inflation pressure in the U.S. economy is likely to rebound and allow for a gradual increase in rates. He and the Bank of England's Governor Mark Carney indicated with their comments that the two central banks could be set to look past recent financial market turmoil set off by fears of slowing China growth.
"I think the both (the Fed and China) are an excuse. I think the market has made a bottom and is going to stay this way in a bottoming-out process, which means more volatility," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. He attributed much of the opening losses to profit taking.
Dow futures briefly fell by more than 200 points, amid a report in The Financial Times over the weekend that Beijing would abandon its large-scale share purchases. The news sparked declines in China's A-listed shares, although the Shanghai Composite pared losses to close 0.8 percent down.
European stocks closed mildly lower. The London exchange was closed for a holiday.
"I think the market's been pretty focused on China and investors have a pretty good idea of where China stands. So I think the worst is out there," said Maris Ogg, president of Tower Bridge Advisors.
"We think we know the Fed's going to increase rates. I think what's going on in China is much more opaque," she said.
No major earnings were due on Wall Street Monday. The Chicago purchasing managers' index (PMI) for August came in at 54.4, slightly below expectations and last month's read, but still indicating expansion.
The U.S. dollar traded a touch lower against major world currencies, with the euro above $1.12 and the yen near 121 yen against the greenback.
Treasury yields came off session lows, with the 10-year Treasury yield near 2.21 percent and the higher near 0.73 percent.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded down 114.98 points, or 0.69 percent, at 16,528.03, with Merck the greatest decliner and Chevron the greatest advancer. The index ended August off 6.57 percent for its worst month since May 2010.
The closed down 16.69 points, or 0.84 percent, at 1,972.18, with health care leading nine sectors lower and energy the only advancing sector. In late-morning trade, index component Signet Jewelers hit an all-time high, while Sempra Energy and Exelon hit fresh 52-week lows.
All 10 sectors posted losses of 3 percent or more for the month, with health care the worst performer, off 8 percent. The index lost 6.26 percent for the month, its worst since May 2012.
The Nasdaq closed down 51.82 points, or 1.07 percent, at 51.82. The index is the only major average up for the year so far but lost 6.86 percent for the month, its worst since May 2012.
Apple closed down 0.5 percent on the day, off 7 percent for the month. The stock remains in correction territory.
The iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB) plunged 3.25 percent on Monday, off 10.65 percent for August and in correction territory.
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded near 28. The VIX rose nearly 135 percent in August for its biggest monthly gain going back to 1990.
About three stocks declined for every two advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 1.1 billion and a composite volume of about nearly 3.9 billion in the close.
Gold futures settled down $1.50 at $1,132.50 an ounce.
—CNBC's Gina Francolla and Giovanny Moreano contributed to this report.
On tap this week:
Earnings: Dollar Tree, H&R Block, Qihu 360 Tech, Bob Evans
10 a.m.: ISM Manufacturing index, construction spending
1:10 p.m.: Boston Fed President Rosengren speaks on lessons from past tightening cycles
Earnings: Vera Bradley, Five Below
7 a.m.: Mortgage applications
8:15 a.m.: ADP Employment report
8:30 a.m.: Productivity & Costs
8:30 a.m.: Gallup U.S. job creation index
10 a.m.: Factory orders
2 p.m.: Beige Book
Earnings: Medtronic, Campbell Soup, Ciena, Joy Global, Lands' End, Cooper Cos.
7:30 a.m.: Challenger Job-Cut report
8:30 a.m.: International trade, jobless claims
10 a.m.: ISM non-manufacturing index
10:30 a.m.: Natural gas inventories
11 a.m.: Oil inventories
9 p.m.: Minneapolis Fed President Kocherlakota speaks at forum in Missoula, Montana.
8:10 a.m.: Richmond Fed President Lacker speaks on the case against further delay
8:30 a.m.: Nonfarm payrolls
3 p.m.: Treasury Strips
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