Updated from 4:34 p.m. EDT

Stocks in New York eked out gains at the end of yet another back-and-forth session for Wall Street on Thursday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 70.49 points, or 0.9%, to 7957.06, while the S&P 500 added 8.37 points, or 1%, to 851.92. The Nasdaq tacked on 6.09 points, or 0.4%, to 1652.21.

American Express ( AXP), the strongest component on the Dow, blew past first-quarter profit expectations after the close, even as its earnings fell from a year earlier. Shares rose nearly 8% in the regular session and continued higher in the post-market.

Microsoft ( MSFT) was light on revenue , but the software maker met profit expectations and was also climbing in the late session.

Amazon.com ( AMZN) and Juniper ( JNPR) were rising slightly after releasing their numbers following the close.

Stocks have seen six consecutive weeks of gains, and while observers have been eyeing a pullback, the rally has lasted longer than many had predicted. Recent dips have resulted in buying.

"I don't think you're seeing the bearish sentiment decline, I think you're seeing the bullish sentiment increase from people who were on the fence," says Michael James, managing director at Wedbush Morgan Securities. "There are some signs of economic stabilization, and human nature is to follow the direction of the market, so an improving market becomes somewhat self-fulfilling in bringing buyers off the fence."

A few weeks through earnings, one of the next big road markers for investors could be the results of the so-called stress tests for the banks. The results will reportedly be discussed with the banks on Friday and publicly disclosed a week thereafter.

"Every big data point that people have been looking forward to has ended up arriving and the market has shrugged off any negative implications and managed to move higher over the past several weeks," says James. "Whether the stress test has the same results, we'll see how the next week goes."

In the meantime, traders had a new round of earnings, as well as data on unemployment and the housing sector, to digest.

Apple ( AAPL) and eBay ( EBAY) delivered upbeat results after the close Wednesday, and those stocks rose 3.2% and 12.5%, respectively.

Among financials, Credit Suisse ( CS) added 16.6%, Fifth Third Bancorp ( FITB) rose 3.5%, and PNC ( PNC) gained 7.5% after their earnings.

Meanwhile, ConocoPhillips ( COP) reported that its first-quarter profit plunged, but it still came in ahead of expectations, as was the case at Occidental Petroleum ( OXY). Those stocks rose 4.9% and 0.7%, respectively.

Shipping company UPS ( UPS), however, fell 2.6% to $53.33, after it missed estimates and said it isn't expecting an economic recovery to begin until 2010. The package carrier also projected a downside second-quarter profit.

Shares of EMC ( EMC), which competes with IBM ( IBM) and Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), lost 4.2% to $12.17, after it reported a 23% decrease in profit on revenue that came in lighter than expected. But the company predicted IT spending is poised for a rebound.

Away from earnings, GM is planning to temporarily close some of its U.S. factories in the weeks ahead. Its shares fell 4.1% for the day.

As for the latest data, existing home sales fell 3% to an annual rate of 4.57 million in March, from a downwardly revised pace of 4.71 million in February, a rate economists had expected to continue.

The Department of Labor said new claims for jobless benefits increased by 27,000 last week to 640,000, which was roughly in line with estimates. Continuing claims, or the number of workers who collected unemployment benefits for more than one week during April, rose by 93,000 to around 6.1 million, setting a record for the 12th consecutive week.

However, jobless claims show signs of moving toward a sideways pattern and they may have peaked, "albeit at levels that suggest very large declines in payrolls," writes Tony Crescenzi, chief bond strategist at Miller Tabak, on his RealMoney.com blog. "The steadying signals a slowing in the pace of decline in the economy."

The dollar was recently stronger against the yen and weaker vs. the pound and euro. Longer-dated Treasuries were rising. The 10-year was up 6/32, yielding 2.9%, while the 30-year was adding 8/32 to yield 3.8%.

As for commodities, oil gained 77 cents to settle at $49.62 a barrel, while gold rose $14.10 to $906.60 an ounce.