A diminished sales forecast by industrial bellwether Caterpillar clouded stocks Monday, but a last-minute burst of buying pushed the Dow and S&P 500 barely back into the black for the session.
The Nasdaq, however, claimed solid gains on the back of a 4.0 percent surge by Apple, clawing back much of its losses of late last week.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 2.38 points (0.02 percent) at 13,345.89.
The broad-based S&P 500 climbed 0.62 (0.04 percent) to 1,433.81, while the Nasdaq Composite gained 11.34 points (0.38 percent) at 3,016.96.
Caterpillar's own shares gained 1.4 percent after the heavy equipment maker posted firm profit gains on steady revenue growth.
But the company reduced its forecast for the full year, warning that China's slowdown, the eurozone crisis, and general global sluggishness, would dampen its growth prospects.
"As we've moved through the year, we've seen continued economic weakening and uncertainty. It's definitely impacting our business with dealers intending to lower inventories and mining customers delaying some projects and reducing orders," said chief executive Doug Oberhelman.
That echoed forecasts by other companies in the past two weeks of third-quarter reporting that has tempered investor enthusiasm.
Apple, however, made a jump ahead of its expected release of the iPad mini, though there was no evidence of a link after the company's shares gave up more than seven percent between Wednesday and Friday.
General Electric, which disappointed investors with its earnings last week, lost another 2.0 percent, taking its loss since Thursday to 5.7 percent.
Coal giant Peabody Energy jumped 10.8 percent despite a sharp fall in third-quarter profits; revenue growth came in better than expected.
On the Nasdaq, Ancestry.com surged 7.8 percent to $31.45 after the announcement that European private equity group Permira Funds would take it over for $32 a share.
Amazon slipped nearly three percent and Microsoft 2.3 percent, while Google edged 0.9 percent lower.
Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year US Treasury rose to 1.81 percent from 1.76 percent Friday, while the 30-year advanced to 2.96 percent from 2.93 percent.
Bond prices move inversely to yields.