Qualcomm Inc shares tumbled 14.2 percent to $40.48 and Motorola Inc slid 12.4 percent to $6.48 after both companies' earnings and outlooks fell short of expectations.
They did exactly what was supposed to happen with the type of earnings report that they had, said Jonathan Corpina, senior managing partner of Meridian Equity Partners in New York.
Several bellwethers this quarter have beaten modest expectations and still have been viewed unfavorably by the market, so these dismal reports were viewed even more negatively.
After the closing bell, Microsoft Corp edged up 1,7 percent to $29.64 after reporting quarterly profit rose 60 percent, aided by solid sales of its new Windows 7 operating system.
Also after the close, Amazon.com Inc added 2.8 percent to $129.59 after the online retailer reported fourth-quarter results that blew past Wall Street's profit estimates and forecast stronger-than-expected revenue for early 2010.
Earlier, news that Athens will not be able to service its heavy debt unnerved investors and prompted them to shun riskier investments, including stocks, although the country's prime minister said it has not asked for a bailout.
Investors are looking headline to headline to headline, Corpina added. It was China and bank reform last week. It was Obama's speech this week, and now today, it's Greece.
Stocks added to losses during the regular session following news that U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, causing the benchmark S&P 500 to close below the key support level of 1,085.
The market had already factored in that he was going to be confirmed, said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.
It would have been a huge event had it (the confirmation) not happened.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 115.70 points, or 1.13 percent, to end at 10,120.46. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> lost 12.97 points, or 1.18 percent, to 1,084.53. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> declined 42.41 points, or 1.91 percent, to close at 2,179.00.
Manufacturer 3M Co , maker of Post-It notes and Scotch tape, fell 1.9 percent to $80.75 despite reporting stronger-than-expected earnings.
The global jitters overshadowed positive earnings from Dow component Procter & Gamble Co , which added 1.4 percent to $61.68 after its second-quarter earnings beat expectations and it raised its sales outlook for the year.
Earlier on Thursday, government data showed new orders for durable goods, or long-lasting manufactured goods such as washing machines and refrigerators, edged higher in December, and the number of workers filing claims for jobless benefits fell last week, signaling that the U.S. economy remains on the path to recovery.
Volume was light on the New York Stock Exchange, with about 1.12 billion shares changing hands, below last year's estimated daily average of 2.18 billion. On the Nasdaq, about 2.83 billion shares traded, above last year's daily average of 1.63 billion.
Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a ratio of almost 3 to 1. On the Nasdaq, more than two stocks fell for every one that rose.
(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Additional reporting by Ellis Mnyandu; Editing by Jan Paschal)