Retailers, hospitals and information technology companies boosted hiring last month to lift U.S. employment by an unexpectedly strong 248,000, the Labor Department said Friday.  The unemployment rate fell to 5.9 percent, a six-year low.

"Employment increased in professional and business services, retail trade and health care," Labor said.

Economists polled by Thomson Reuters expected, on average, a gain of 215,000. The economy has added an average 213,000 jobs each month over the previous 12 months.

Hiring for August was revised up to 180,000 from 142,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate declined to 5.9 percent in September from 6.1 percent. But 315,000 people dropped out of the labor force, lowering the labor-force participation rate to 62.7 percent, a level not seen since the 1970s.

The strong report energized the stock market, sending the S&P 500 up from a premarket gain of 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent.