Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How to fix Windows 7 will not boot: corrupted files [SOLVED!]

This is going to be quite a post, but here goes nothing:
I am running Windows 7 Pro 64-bit with SP1 installed, and until yesterday it was working fairly well. As many of you may know, yesterday was April Fool's Day, and
I'm afraid my computer played quite the joke on me! It was business as usual, and I was dragging a folder to the Recycle Bin when my desktop icons suddenly vanished. I decided to try a few basic troubleshooting tips to correct this: I disabled and re-enabled the "Show Desktop Icons" option, I changed my theme a couple of times, I set my desktop icons to default, and I rebooted the computer. However, nothing seemed to work. I knew the icons were still there, because I saw them in my Desktop folder, and my taskbar and Start menu were fine. The only way I could make the icons reappear was to use the trusty Winkey+ P, and switch the display option from "Computer Only" to "Parallel" or "Duplicate."

Running out of ideas, I quickly jumped online and searched our incredibly helpful forum. I found another which suggested rebuilding the icon cache. I entered in the following commands verbatim in an elevated command prompt:

taskkill /IM explorer.exe /F
CD /d %userprofile%\AppData\Local
DEL IconCache.db /a
shutdown /r

I know I should have changed the “userprofile” to my username, but I didn't realize that at the time. Anyway, the computer rebooted, but unfortunately, the desktop icon issue persisted. I decided to ignore it for the time being, and began syncing music to my iPod. A while later, there was a power outage, and my comp therefore shutdown unexpectedly. When I rebooted, Windows was all right. After checking to make sure nothing was out of place (besides the missing desktop icons) I shut down and left for several hours. Upon returning, I rebooted the computer and received my next April Fool's Joke – Windows would not boot! The machine would load up the GUI boot screen, but then, instead of displaying the login screen, I would see a black screen with just my cursor visible, and then the computer would reboot. It continued to do this in an unending cycle of failing to boot.

I used every single boot repair I knew, starting with the F8 options: I tried Safe Mode and Last Known Good Configuration, both with the same results as if I'd booted normally. I ran the kernel debugger with no result, and I ran a memory test, but that came back clean. Naturally, Windows suggested that I attempt to repair it at the boot menu, so I decided to run Startup Repair. It found and attempted to repair an error, but was unable to do so. Thinking that the pre-installed files could be bad, I ran Startup Repair again from my genuine Windows 7 install disc, but the result was the same. The following error report was displayed when I requested further details:

Problem event name: Startup Repair Offline

Problem locations (I omitted some because they were either blank or unknown):
1.) 6.1.7600.16385
4.) 21202109
5.) External Media (This led me to believe there was some sort of conflict with the iPod, but I made sure nothing was plugged in when I rebooted other than my monitor, keyboard, and mouse.)
6.) 2
7.) No Root Cause

That last bit is somewhat contradictory, because further along in the error report, one root cause was found, and was listed as “Unspecified changes to system configuration might have caused the problem.” Perhaps the error was caused my attempt at rebuilding the icon cache? That is my best guess, because my computer passed every other check the Startup Repair ran.
Since Windows couldn't repair the system, my next step was to use System Restore. However, there were no restore points available! For some reason, Windows wouldn't let me access them, although I knew I had them, since Windows had created a restore point when I installed SP1. Since restore points were now no longer an option, my next plan was to restore from a system image I had made a few weeks earlier. I decided to refrain from that option, because I am hoping I may find a solution here that will fix my boot issue, rather than setting me back a few weeks. If all else fails, I can use my system image.
Since the repair options from the Windows install disc hadn't worked or uncovered anything, and neither had the F8 advanced boot options, I moved to plan B. I have a separate hard drive with Windows XP and Linux Mint installed on it, so I decided to check my Windows 7 drive from there. I booted into XP and ran several virus, rootkit, and malware scans, including an exhaustive scan with McAfee's free anti-virus tool. Every scan came back negative, so apparently there wasn't any malware infection that might have compromised my main drive. I checked the drive for errors with XP's built-in utility, and that also came back clean. So the disc was healthy, which confirmed the Startup Repair's report that there were no bad sectors.

I was fresh out of ideas, so I decided to sleep on it and shut the computer down. When I rebooted this morning, I was unable to access my XP drive! When I selected XP from the boot loader menu, instead of booting XP up as usual, the screen moved to the Windows 7 boot GUI and then entered its boot failure cycle. So now, for some reason, the Windows 7 boot error has moved to my second hard drive and taken out my XP boot loader. I can still boot with Linux, so I can still access my XP and Win 7 partitions, in case I need to change anything in the boot folder or edit any configuration files.

Thus concludes my post; I'm sorry if it appears verbose, but I really wanted to cover the entire problem in great detail, just so that a solution may be found that much quicker. So is there a method I haven't thought of yet that may yet save me from restoring or reinstalling Windows? I'm not sure what incited the issue in the first place, but I believe it was either my botched attempt at rebuilding the icon cache, the boot files becoming corrupted as a result of being unexpectedly shut down during the power outage, or even a delayed side-effect from installing Service Pack 1. I haven't installed or downloaded anything recently (aside from updating Firefox) so I really don't know the cause for this boot disorder. And why would Windows 7's inability to boot suddenly afflict XP, which is on a separate hard drive? As I said, I'm completely out of ideas, and this April Fool's joke has me entirely confounded!

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