The S&P 500 closed about half a point lower with consumer discretionary leading declines. Energy led advancers but ended up 0.74 percent, off highs. The Dow Jones industrial average squeezed out a 9-point gain with IBM having the most positive impact.
"You kind of need a little growth here to kick in to get this market going up," Jeremy Klein, chief market strategist at FBN Securities, said, noting investors were mostly waiting for the jobs data.
"Everything to me is a bunch of noise," he sad.
Adam Sarhan, CEO of Sarhan Capital, earlier said the initial gains in stocks were "a little bit of a relief rally" with sentiment supported by gains in oil.
"Today's an important day because if the market pulls off today hard it will tell you buyers are getting exhausted," he said.
The Nasdaq composite underperformed as declines in shares of Amazon.com and Apple weighed. The index closed 9.8 percent below its all-time intraday high touched last July.
The Dow transports closed more than 1 percent lower as Matson fell 12.5 percent to lead decliners.
"An oversold bounce is likely to interrupt the pullback in the SPX today, but we think it will fade on weak short-term momentum," BTIG Chief Technical Strategist Katie Stockton said in a morning note.
"Signs of short-term downside exhaustion have arisen in the technology sector and European equity benchmarks, supporting a few days of stabilization in those areas," she said. "However, broad-based indices like the SPX are still a couple of days away from flashing short-term oversold 'buy' signals."
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In economic news, weekly jobless claims rose to 274,000. Earlier, Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported layoffs by U.S.-based companies accelerated in April, sending year-to-date job cuts to the highest level since 2009.
"Nothing too jaw-dropping today," Brian Fenske, head of sales trading at ITG, said, noting "conviction levels appear relatively low."
The U.S. dollar index rose for a third-straight day with gains of more than half a percent. The euro struggled to hold $1.14 and the yen was last near 107.26 yen against the greenback.
The 2-year yield hit 0.718 percent and 10-year Treasury yield fell to 1.735 percent, both their lowest in more than 2 weeks.
The major economic data for the week, the nonfarm payrolls report for April, is due Friday ahead of the U.S. market open.