Windows Explorer Has Stopped Working

10:07 am Windows

My brother-in-law has a problem with his Windows 7 laptop. He continually sees the pop-up error message, “Windows Explorer has stopped working”, and the desktop would flicker (killing all file explorer windows) as Windows restarts the process. He cannot do anything productive with the malfunctioning machine. He asks me to take a look.

When diagnosing and fixing a misbehaving Windows system, I do the following:

  1. Clean virus or spyware (aka malware) infection. Virus and spyware could cause Windows to act strangely by damaging critical system files.
  2. Prevent strange programs from running on startup.
  3. Fix file system issues and check Windows file system integrity.
  4. Disable and delete unknown browser plugins. Reset the homepage to a blank tab.
  5. Resolve Windows registry inconsistencies.
  6. Pull the latest Windows updates.

Note: Most of the instructions below are applicable to Windows 8 and Windows 10 with some minor differences.

Death to Viruses and Spyware

Before running the virus and spyware scans, I recommend deleting temporary files to speed up the whole process by reducing the number of files to scan. Launch “Disk Cleanup”, select the primary drive, click on the “Clean up system files” option, select the primary drive again (if prompted to), check all temporary files found, and delete them.

Note: Under the Disk Cleanup’s “More Options” tab, you can delete “System Restore and Shadow Copies”. I don’t recommend deleting System Restore images because that will remove the ability to restore Windows to an earlier point in time. Only do so if your Windows computer is working without any problems and you really want to reduce the virus scan time. (Virus scanners doing a full, not quick, scan will take significantly more time to scan through the System Restore files.)

I run Microsoft Security Essentials (known as Windows Defender in most versions of Windows), update it, and start a quick scan. Updating it successfully is a good sign because some viruses will cripple virus scanners pre-emptively. Security Essentials find no infection. (If you don’t already have a virus scanner installed, I recommend downloading the free Windows Security Essentials.)

I then launch Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, update it, and initiate the scan. Malwarebytes finds and cleans several malware infections. I don’t know whether those infections are serious or not; I’m just glad they are gone. The worst is knowing that even if you successfully clean a virus or spyware infection, it may not solve all the problems because they tend to leave damage behind.

Note: Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is free and requires that you manually run it. The paid premium version provides real-time, constant surveillance.

Because I want to make certain that the laptop is clean, I also run ComboFix. ComboFix is a powerful spyware scanner which I’ve used successfully in the past with Windows XP. ComboFix should only be used at your own risk, because it could potentially damage Windows further. If you decide to use ComboFix, download it from bleepingcomputer.com, not from combofix.com or combofix.org. The latter will ironically give you a spyware-infected ComboFix version!

Thankfully, ComboFix completes running and does not destroy Windows 7. Unfortunately, the ComboFix log file is cryptic so while I’m fairly certain that it fixed something, I’m not exactly sure what.

The good news is that after a reboot, Windows no longer displays the “Windows Explorer has stopped working” popup message. So it looks very likely that spyware or malware caused the initial issue.

Say No to Startup Programs

Note: The System Configuration tool (msconfig) was removed from Windows 10. Its functions are incorporated into the Task Manager’s Startup and Services tabs.

Execute “msconfig” on Windows 7 to run the System Configuration tool and look for the Startup tab, which will list the programs launched at boot time. Google any program you don’t recognize. You may see remnant programs, with non-sensical names like “BDsad32Zm”, left by the virus or spyware — just uncheck them. (To reduce the startup time, I recommend unchecking any unnecessary programs like QuickTime and Adobe Reader. They supposedly speed up the launching of these programs, but at the cost of increasing startup time.)

Note: To reduce the startup time further, you can look at the Services tab and uncheck any unnecessary services, like “Distributed Link Tracking Client” (useful only if you link shared files across the network). Alternatively, instead of using “msconfig”, you could launch “services.msc” and disable the service or modify it to start manually, instead of automatically. Windows will start a manual service if necessary; for example, if an automatic service depends on it.

I do not find any strange startup programs on my brother-in-law’s laptop. Malwarebytes or ComboFix may have gotten rid of them already.

System Integrity Or Else

Corrupted files on the hard drive may cause Windows or programs to behave strangely. Thankfully, Windows provides two tools to diagnose this issue: a Check Disk tool (chkdsk) to fix general file system problems and a System File Checker (sfc) to verify Windows system files. (For more info on the System File Checker, see Use the System File Checker tool to repair missing or corrupted system files.)

To use the Check Disk tool:

  1. Click on the Windows start menu icon, input “cmd”, right-click on the “cmd.exe” or “Command Prompt” result, and select “Run as administrator” to launch the command prompt window with administrative privileges.
  2. Execute the following command (first line without the “>”):
    > chkdsk /f

    The type of the file system is NTFS.
    Cannot lock current drive.

    Chkdsk cannot run because the volume is in use by another
    process.  Would you like to schedule this volume to be
    checked the next time the system restarts? (Y/N)
  3. Input “Y” for Yes and reboot the laptop. The startup process will scan the hard drive for errors before running Windows.

Note: If you have a second hard drive, you can check it without rebooting; for example, by running the command “chkdsk /f d:” if you have a “D:\” drive.

To use the System File Checker:

  1. Run a “Command Prompt” as administrator (same steps as above).
  2. Execute this command:
    > sfc /scannow

    Beginning system scan.  This process will take some time.

    Beginning verification phase of system scan.
    Verification 100% complete.
    Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files but was unable to fix some of them.
    Details are included in the CBS.Log windir\Logs\CBS\CBS.log. For example
    C:\Windows\Logs\CBS\CBS.log

The Check Disk tool finds some file inconsistencies and fixes them. Unfortunately, though the System File Checker finds issues, it is not able to repair them all. This means that my brother-in-law’s laptop has some Windows system file corruption, which is bad.

The “CBS.log” file is large and dense. Microsoft recommends filtering it by running this command:

findstr /c:"[SR]" %windir%\Logs\CBS\CBS.log >"%userprofile%\Desktop\sfcdetails.txt"

The resulting “sfcdetails.txt” is not too helpful; it doesn’t show the filenames. Here is an excerpt:

2017-05-08 15:15:49, Info                  CSI    00000578 [SR] Verifying 100 (0x00000064) components
2017-05-08 15:15:49, Info                  CSI    00000579 [SR] Beginning Verify and Repair transaction
2017-05-08 15:15:49, Info                  CSI    0000057b [SR] Verify complete
2017-05-08 15:15:49, Info                  CSI    0000057c [SR] Verifying 100 (0x00000064) components
2017-05-08 15:15:49, Info                  CSI    0000057d [SR] Beginning Verify and Repair transaction
2017-05-08 15:15:49, Info                  CSI    00000580 [SR] Cannot verify component files for a3ba03adb219630fa0874057b9609115, Version = 6.1.7601.23418, pA = PROCESSOR_ARCHITECTURE_INTEL (0), Culture neutral, VersionScope = 1 nonSxS, PublicKeyToken = {l:8 b:31bf3856ad364e35}, Type neutral, TypeName neutral, PublicKey neutral, manifest is damaged (TRUE)
2017-05-08 15:15:49, Info                  CSI    00000582 [SR] Verify complete

Note: Unfortunately, I had used the Disk Cleanup tool to delete the System Restore images earlier. As a result, I am unable to revert to earlier Windows 7 versions which might not have had the system file corruption. I’m not sure, but the System File Checker might have been able to use files from the System Restore images to correct the issues above. Duh.

I’m hopeful that the Windows Update, which we will do later, will fix these corrupted files.

System File Checker To The Max

You may consider running the System File Checker in Windows safe mode. On boot up, hold the F8 key until you see the Advanced Boot Options menu and then select the “Safe Mode with Command Prompt” option. Doing so may allow the System File Checker to repair files that might be in use during a normal boot up.

Additionally, before running System File Checker, you may wish to ensure that temporary files belonging to it (under “PendingRenames” and “PendingDeletes”) are deleted. Those files are protected so you’ll also need to take ownership before you can delete them. Run the Command Prompt as administrator and issue these commands:

cd %windir%\winsxs\Temp\PendingRenames

# Take ownership of files
takeown /f *.*

# Grant file permissions to administrators (assuming you are one)
icacls *.* /GRANT ADMINISTRATORS:F

# Delete the files
del *.*

# Repeat to delete files under PendingDeletes (which is a hidden directory)
cd %windir%\winsxs\Temp\PendingRenames

Note: The Advanced Boot Options menu also has a “Repair Your Computer” item; however, when I select it, I get an error, “The boot selection failed because a required device is inaccessible”. I try inserting both a Windows 7 installation DVD and USB flash drive, but they are not accepted. I think this option depends on having a special repair partition, which is missing from the laptop.

Browser Plugins Be Gone

As a general matter of computer hygiene, I check both the Internet Explorer and Chrome browsers on the laptop. Specifically, I am looking for plugins, extensions, or add-ons that shouldn’t be there. When I find them, I disable and delete/uninstall them.

I also double-check that the default search provider and homepage have not been overwritten. For example, the unwanted SmartSearch plugin loves to set the search provider to Yahoo and the homepage location to its own search website.

I do not locate any unwanted browser plugins on the laptop.

Windows Registry Be Consistent

I install the free CCleaner tool, select the Registry tool, scan for issues, and fix them all. I recommend choosing the option to backup the registry before making changes. That way if it goes horribly wrong (but Windows still works), you’ll have a way to undo the action. Always reboot afterwards to check that the registry changes are okay.

The Windows registry serves as Window’s memory bank. Inconsistencies in it will cause Windows to misbehave. Corruption in it could cause Windows to stop running. As with ComboFix, use CCleaner at your own risk.

Note: CCleaner also offers a tool to find and delete temporary and unnecessary files. I usually use it in addition to the Window’s “Disk Cleanup” tool.

To The Latest And Greatest

I launch “Windows Update”, see that some updates are pending, and start their installation. Then I wait and wait. The progress bar shows zero progress. When I hover the mouse over the Windows Update icon in the system tray, the tooltip message “Windows is downloading updates (0% complete)” keeps appearing. I give up after 30 minutes.

After some research, I find that Microsoft had significantly changed how Windows Update worked on October 11, 2016. If the Windows Update is unable to update itself, then the “0% complete” issue could occur. I download and install the KB3172605 package according to Windows 7 Update solution.

I re-run the Windows Update and this time, the updates download and install successfully, except for one. The single failed update is the “2017-05 Security Monthly Quality Rollup for Windows 7 for x86-based System (KB4019264)” package. The error code is 80073712, which means that the Windows component store is corrupt.

Unfortunately, Windows Update couldn’t repair the corrupt Windows system files.

Ready To Repair

I find suggestions that the standalone System Update Readiness tool could be used to repair corrupt Windows system files. I download the version for 32-bit Windows 7 and run it. It is able to repair some files, but not all.

Note: Windows 7 comes with a built-in DISM (Deployment Image Servicing and Management) tool which contains some of the System Update Readiness tool’s functions. Though the Windows 7 DISM is not as powerful as the Windows 8 or 10 version, you can run it with “DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /Scanhealth” (more powerful parameters like “/Restorehealth” will not work under Windows 7). I still decid to use the standalone System Update Readiness tool instead.

Thankfully, the System Update Readiness tool’s log file, “%windir%\Logs\CheckSUR.log”, is very readable and lists the un-repairable files at the end.

Unavailable repair files:
    winsxs\manifests\x86_a3ba03adb219630fa0874057b9609115_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7601.23418_none_c3113e25b89565d3.manifest
    winsxs\manifests\x86_microsoft-windows-t..platform-comruntime_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7601.23375_none_cce17c0fae9f1772.manifest
    winsxs\manifests\x86_microsoft-windows-ie-ieetwcollector_31bf3856ad364e35_11.2.9600.17501_none_4942df405f80bb4b.manifest
    winsxs\manifests\x86_microsoft-windows-t..icesframework-msctf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7601.23572_none_7811a73e66577d81.manifest
    servicing\packages\Package_37_for_KB3138612~31bf3856ad364e35~x86~~6.1.1.1.mum
    servicing\packages\Package_7_for_KB3138612~31bf3856ad364e35~x86~~6.1.1.1.mum
    servicing\packages\Package_for_KB3138612_SP1~31bf3856ad364e35~x86~~6.1.1.1.mum
    servicing\packages\Package_for_KB3156017~31bf3856ad364e35~x86~~6.1.1.0.mum
    servicing\packages\Package_37_for_KB3138612~31bf3856ad364e35~x86~~6.1.1.1.cat
    servicing\packages\Package_for_KB3138612_SP1~31bf3856ad364e35~x86~~6.1.1.1.cat
    servicing\packages\Package_for_KB3156017~31bf3856ad364e35~x86~~6.1.1.0.cat

Following instructions from How to fix errors found in the CheckSUR.log, I download the packages for KB3138612 (Windows6.1-KB3138612-x86.msu) and KB3156017 (Windows6.1-KB3156017-x86.msu), and place them in the newly-created “%WinDir%\Temp\CheckSUR\Packages” folder.

I re-run the System Update Readiness tool. It repairs the corrupted files belonging to those packages. The resulting log now only shows the corrupted manifest files:

Unavailable repair files:
    winsxs\manifests\x86_a3ba03adb219630fa0874057b9609115_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7601.23418_none_c3113e25b89565d3.manifest
    winsxs\manifests\x86_microsoft-windows-t..platform-comruntime_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7601.23375_none_cce17c0fae9f1772.manifest
    winsxs\manifests\x86_microsoft-windows-ie-ieetwcollector_31bf3856ad364e35_11.2.9600.17501_none_4942df405f80bb4b.manifest
    winsxs\manifests\x86_microsoft-windows-t..icesframework-msctf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7601.23572_none_7811a73e66577d81.manifest

Unfortunately, I am unable to find a source for the manifest files online or otherwise. My friend has a Windows 7 desktop, but his installation is 64-bit and I need the 32-bit versions.

Upgrade To Windows 7 For The Win

When the System File Checker failed, I was afraid I would have to do it. I fought it, but in the end, it looks like I need to do an in-place upgrade of Windows 7. Effectively, re-install Windows 7 on top of itself. This “upgrade” should replace the corrupted files, while preserving everything else.

Note: I thought that I might avoid re-installing Windows 7 by just re-installing the Service Pack 1 (in the hope that it would be sufficient to replace the corrupted files). Unfortunately, when I attempt to install the Service Pack 1, it fails with a cryptic zero file termination error.

To perform an in-place upgrade, do the following:

  1. Make sure you have the Windows 7 product key!
  2. Run Windows 7 as normal. Log in with an administrator account.
  3. Disable any virus or spyware scanner. To disable Microsoft Security Essentials, go to Settings, Real-time protection, uncheck the “Turn on real-time protection (recommended)” option, and click on the “Save changes” button.
  4. Insert a bootable USB flash drive containing the Windows 7 Professional with SP1 32-bit installer (see instructions on how to create one). Or if you prefer, insert the Windows 7 install DVD.
  5. Run the “setup.exe” on the USB flash drive (or DVD) and click on the “Install now” button.
  6. Select the “Go online to get the latest updates for installation (recommended)” option. (If you don’t have Internet access, you’ll need to choose the second option, “Do not get the latest updates for installation”.)
  7. Accept the license terms and select the “Upgrade” option.
  8. Sit back, relax, and wait. My brother-in-law’s laptop takes almost an hour to do the in-place upgrade. I observed the following: 20 minutes, reboot, 20 minutes, reboot, 5 minutes, reboot, chkdsk, and reboot.
  9. After the final reboot, you will be prompted to enter the Windows 7 product key. Input the product key.
  10. Select the recommended defaults in the following two screens. You’ll then see the normal Windows 7 login screen.
  11. Log in, activate the Windows 7 product key, and re-enable the virus scanner.

After the “upgrade”, I run “Windows Update”. After a couple of minutes, it says “133 important updates are available”. I was afraid of that — looks like I need to install all the updates since Service Pack 1. Two hours later (after 133 updates, reboot, 59 updates, reboot, 3 updates, reboot, 1 update, and reboot), all the updates are installed successfully.

Back to the Past

Over the next hour, two more updates are found and installed. Then an “Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7” update appears which fails to install. What?!

I run the Check Disk (chkdsk) tool. Unexpectedly, it finds some file index errors and correct them all. I run the System Update Readiness tool. It finds some issues and fixes them all. I run the System File Checker (sfc). It finds problems and complains “Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files but was unable to fix some of them”. Uh oh, it’s the same problem.

I filter the System File Checker’s log file and one log statement says that the “mvc80JPN.dll” file is corrupt. That file belongs to Microsoft Visual Studio 2005. I download and install the Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 runtime, but it does not correct the file. I am not able to find another source online. I am stuck at the same dead end.

Having no choice, I hide the “Internet Explorer 11” update. The “Internet Explorer 10” update appears, it fails to install, and I hide it also. Looks like all Internet Explorer versions depend on the corrupt “mvc80JPN.dll” file.

Over the next day, two dozen updates show up, including the “2017-05 Security Monthly Quality Rollup for Windows 7 for x86-based System (KB4019264)” update. All of them download and install successfully. Eventually, no new updates appear.

For now, my brother-in-law can live without the latest Windows Explorer version. He can use the existing Internet Explorer 8 or the latest Chrome browser. If he uses Internet Explorer 8, he should be okay if he avoids Japanese websites; he doesn’t read Japanese so I don’t think that it will be a problem.

Note: If and when my brother-in-law next encounters a major issue with his Windows 7 laptop, I will probably just do a fresh installation of Windows 10 on it.

And we are done. I hope the above will help you to solve your “Windows Explorer has stopped working” error or other Windows problems.

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