The Dow rose 109.17 points, or 0.7 percent, to close at 16,009.99. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 14.48 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,795.85. The Nasdaq composite rose 47.88 points, or 1.2 percent, to 3,969.15.
In a sign that investors are taking on more risk, small-company stocks rose at a much faster pace than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index jumped 19.83 points, or 1.8 percent, to 1,119.62.
The Labor Department reported before the market opened that applications for unemployment benefits dropped last week to the lowest level since September. The number of applications is close to where it was before the Great Recession.
General Motors rose after the U.S. government said it expects to sell its remaining stake in the company by the end of the year. The Treasury Department still owns 31.3 million shares of the auto giant after bailing it out five years ago. GM gained 43 cents or 1.1 percent, to $38.12.
"Having the Treasury out is probably something that is going to be positive for the shares," said Jeff Morris, head of U.S. equities at Standard Life Investments. "Some investors are probably a bit spooked by having a meaningful amount of government ownership."
Johnson Controls was among the biggest gainers after the company, which makes heating and ventilation systems for buildings, said its board approved at $3 billion increase in its share repurchase program. Johnson Controls rose $2.13, or 4.4 percent, to $50.35.
In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year note edged down to 2.79 percent from 2.80 percent Wednesday. The yield, which is a benchmark used to set interest rates on many kinds of loans, including home mortgages, is the highest it's been since Sept. 17.
Among other stocks making big moves:
—Williams-Sonoma jumped $4.23, or 7.6 percent, to $59.74 after the company said its third-quarter net income rose 16 percent as customers spent more at its West Elm and PBteen stores.
— Dollar Tree, a discount retailer, fell $2.64, or 4.5 percent, to $56.28 after the company reported earnings that fell short of Wall Street's expectations.
— Target fell $2.30, or 3.5 percent, to $64.19 after the retailer said its third-quarter net income fell 47 percent after it was stung by costs related to its expansion into Canada.