"People are getting out of bonds into stocks," said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities. "We're in the early stages of a recovery."
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."