As with several other people, I too have a blank XP desktop missing the icons and the taskbar (wallpaper is present though). At one point system recovery from an earlier date cured the problem, but as soon as I switched off and re-booted the problem returned.
I have tried typing 'explorer.exe' in the Task Manager, but Windows cannot find it. Even if I include the full path (C:\windows\explorer.exe) it gives an error message saying it can't find the file. Even if I copy explorer from another machine onto a removable drive it STILL cannot find it. However if I re-name 'explorer.exe' to, say, 'explorer1.exe' it does find it, so there is something about the explorer name that is being blocked.
If I type 'explorer1.exe' as in the previous paragraph it doesn't fully cure the problem. It brings up a copy of Windows Explorer at the 'My Documents' level and one can navigate from there, but this is not the true desktop, nor is the taskbar present.
All the above applies whether in Safe Mode or otherwise
Can anyone help with this unusual problem? Many thanks.