The Dow gained 37 points to end at 11541 after moving between gains and losses for most of the day. The S&P rose 5 points to 1215, but the Nasdaq dropped 5 points to end at 2598.
New signs of division among European leaders over how to handle the region's debt crisis led to confusion on financial markets Thursday.
Stock indexes rose, fell, rose back again and then ended the day more or less where they started. As they have been doing for weeks now, traders remain focused on the latest hope for a resolution to Europe's debt crisis: this time, a weekend summit of European leaders.
The Dow Jones industrial average moved between gains and losses all day before ending up 37.16 points, or 0.3 percent, to close at 11,541.78. The Dow had been down as many as 113 points shortly after noon. The Dow is 0.3 percent below where it started the year, and is headed for its first down week after three weeks of gains.
Trading was choppy as talks across the Atlantic appeared to falter because of differences between Germany and France over how to protect European banks from the consequences of a default by the Greek government. Later in the day stocks rose slightly on news that a second summit meeting would take place next week after it became clear that France and Germany would not be able to bridge their difference in time for the meeting Sunday.
A messy default by Greece could lead to deep losses for European banks that hold Greek debt. If that leads them to pull back on lending to each other, it could cause another freeze in global credit markets like the one in late 2008 after Lehman Brothers collapsed.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.51 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,215.39.
The Nasdaq composite lost 5.42 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,598.62.
U.S. Treasury prices also fluctuated sharply as the latest news from Europe crossed, before ending about where they were a day earlier. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was 2.18 percent late Thursday compared with 2.16 percent late Wednesday.
Stock indexes had edged higher in early trading after the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said regional manufacturing was "showing signs of recovery." Its index of manufacturing, shipments and new orders was far better than economists had forecast. An unexpected drop in the index spurred a stock market sell-off in August.
Other economic reports were mixed. The Labor Department said new applications for unemployment benefits dropped to 403,000 last week, a sign that layoffs are easing. On the down side, sales of previously-occupied homes dipped 3 percent last month.
Among stocks making big moves, Newfield Exploration plunged 14.8 percent, the largest decline in the S&P 500 index. The oil and gas producer reported disappointing third-quarter results and cut its production forecast for the year.
Union Pacific Corp., the country's largest railroad, surged after its earnings came in well ahead of analysts' estimates. The company gained 4 percent after reporting that its income trumped forecasts. It also said it expects the growth to continue.
Southwest Airlines rose 4.5 percent after reporting income that was a penny per share higher than analysts predicted. AT&T Inc. lost 0.3 percent after reporting that the number of new iPhones activated last quarter was the lowest in a year and a half.
The New York Times jumped 9.2 percent after the company reported higher profits than expected.
Casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd. said that it turned a profit in the third quarter after posting a loss a year ago, but the results still fell short of Wall Street's estimates. Its stock lost 5.3 percent.