Have you ever worked in Windows and ended up with a program freezing and causing all your desktop icons to disappear? In most cases, everything goes away, including the Start button and the taskbar.

Usually, to get out of this situation, you have to restart your computer and hope that whatever caused the Windows problem goes away.

Icon icons can be missing on your desktop for two reasons:

  • An error occurred with the explorer.exe process, handling the screen.
  • Icons are hidden only.

Usually, it’s an explo.rer.exe problem if the whole taskbar goes away. In this article, I will cover a few ways you can fix either of these problems.

Note: If you want to download Computer, Control Panel, Recycle Bin, Network, or User’s Files icons, right-click the desktop, click Personalize, click Change icons on the left-hand menu and then check icons you want on the screen.

Change icons

Display Desktop icon

The second way is more comfortable to fix. In Windows XP, right-click on the desktop and choose Arrange Icons By. Next, check the Show Desktop Icons item.

Show Desktop Icons

In Windows 7 and up, right-click on the desktop and select View, and then make sure Show icons is selected.

Show icons

But as mentioned earlier, that’s not why your desktop icons are missing. The second method involves restarting the process without having to restart Windows.

Restart Explorer.exe

Press CTRL + ALT + DEL and click Task Manager . In Windows 7 and above, click the Start task manager link at the end.

Task Manager

Start task manager 

Now in Task Manager, you want to click on File and New Task (Run). Make sure you are on the Processes tab.

In the Open box, go ahead and type explorer.exe and hit OK.


That’s it! This will restart the Explorer process, and hopefully, you will get your desktop icons, taskbar, and Start button back! If the explorer.exe process is running, this task will open a new Explorer window on your desktop.

Run a system file checker

If the two methods above didn’t work, some system files are corrupted, and the problem won’t go away until the file is repaired. The best way to do this is to run System File Checker, check for lost and corrupt Windows system files and fix them. You can run it by going to StartRun, typing cmd, and typing sfc / scannow.

sfc /scannow

You will need to make sure you run the command prompt as Administrator. When you enter Run after clicking Start, right-click cmd and choose Run as Administrator.

Run as Administrator

Disable sleep mode

Another rare reason why your desktop icons might disappear is because of the monitor. If you notice that this issue occurs after your monitor goes to sleep, you should change the settings so that the monitor doesn’t sleep.

I’ve seen this issue happen on some full HD monitors, and I’m not 100% sure of the problem. Turning the screen on and off seems to make the problem go away, but it adds an inconvenience. The best way is to update your graphics card driver and install the latest Windows updates.

You can get to the display settings by going to Power Options from the Control Panel and then clicking on Change plan settings.

Change plan settings

Reconfigure Cache

Windows keeps a caching icon. If this file gets corrupted for some reason, some or all of the shortcuts on the desktop may disappear. You can delete this file and then restart the computer to rebuild the cache and hopefully get all your icons and shortcuts back.

To do this, open Explorer, click on Organize, and then click on Folder and search options.

Folder and search options

Click the View tab and then select the radio button that says Show hidden files, folders, and drives.

Show hidden files, folders and drives

Now navigate to the following folder in Explorer:

C: Users (username) AppData Local

You should see a file called IconCache.db inside that folder. Go ahead and right-click on it and choose Delete.


Go ahead and restart the computer and see if that fixes your problem. The cache will be rebuilt when the computer is restarted. You can also go back and check if the file’s size is smaller after reboot. If not, reboot a couple of times until you see the smaller size.

If none of the above solutions worked, then you may have to take more drastic action. You can create a user account, which will create a new user profile when you log in. There are many times when a user profile is corrupt, and the only way to fix the resulting problems is to create a new profile. If you have questions, please post a comment. Enjoy!