Weird Start Menu/Taskbar Bug/Virus/Problem on my Vista machine

So the other day I log into my machine from a reboot due to the OS hard locking up from plugging in my USB flash drive (wtf?) and I notice that all of my most frequently used programs list, the search/run box, and the Internet/Mail links are all gone and instead is a big blank section. So I think, “Oh, I’ll reset the settings for the Start Menu to defaults!” On clicking “OK” after doing so, the entire taskbar and start menu now stop refreshing themselves and are no longer interactive. I look in Task Manager and it shows that Explorer is taking up roughly 50% CPU usage and Vista never says anything about it being unresponsive or asks me to shut it down. Strangely enough the desktop can still be interacted with and you can open My Computer or any other folder just fine (which typically would open another Explorer thread). I can kill Explorer and use Task Manager to restart it and everything is back to “normal” (ie everything is cool unless I try to change any settings related to the taskbar or the start bar, and the whole start menu is still empty like before-- clicking All Programs shows my full Start Menu still though).

I decide to clean out my temp dir, and reboot. No dice, still happening. So I next load up Firefox with the Housecall online virus scanner, and find out that the Java version of the app has some kind of error and it the scanner doesn’t load properly. I click “View in IE” on the Housecall site and expect it to come up in ActiveX. However, instead it says that Java is the only version of the Housecall kernel it can run. Fine, whatever. I run it, it downloads a bunch o’ crap and starts up the scan. About 2 minutes in, I come back to the PC and it’s sitting at the IE homepage instead of the running HouseCall. :O So I try again and this time it redirects after 30 seconds! OMG I have teh comptuer AIDS!! So I load up the Kaspersky online scanner instead, which actually detects ActiveX and I run through the steps to get it going.

I left my PC scanning with the Kaspersky web site before I headed off to work and I’m hoping it will find and remove something and fix it. I’m dreading having to do a repair, or worse yet, a reinstall.

Did you try a System Restore to a point before the incident? I thought Vista had this capability.
Yes, it does:
http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/windows-vista/using-windows-vista-system-restore/
It’s worth a try, since it won’t hose your data (which a repair could, and a reinstall definitely will).
Good luck.

I used a System Restore a while ago to fix a login/UAC issue with Vista. You can actually boot up off the Vista DVD and run System Restore directly off the disc, which was awesome since I had no privileges to run it after logging in (yes, I had no working Administrator or Administrators group account). I may be able to use it to fix this issue as well; it’s certainly worth a try if no virus is detected. I would be worried about the restore files being infected as well.

Edit:

Yeah, I did a scan and it found viruses in a few files but they were not the System Restore backups. So I did a System Restore and everything is working fine again. I’m going to run another virus scan in HouseCall and hopefully it’ll work now.