Explorer.exe is the program component that provides Windows Shell. Windows Shell or Explorer creates and presents the entire user interface or look and feel of Windows operating system, including task bar, desktop, Windows Explorer, notification area (system tray), start menu, dialog boxes and interface controls as well as describes past shells such as MS-DOS command prompt executive and Program Manager.

Thus, in most cases, when user is asked to restart or reboot the computer system, user will need to just stop and then start Explorer.exe Windows Shell process again in order to achieve the same effect with restarting PC. Exiting the Explorer process cleanly allows user to shutdown Explorer without risking unpredictable erroneous consequences that normally may happen if user forcefully kill the Explorer.exe process using Task Manager or Process Explorer, or using taskkill command.

To exit, terminate or stop Explorer gracefully and cleanly, follow steps listed below. Windows Vista using Classic Start Menu has the same exit method with Windows XP, while users who use the default standard Windows Vista Start Menu has to use trick to access hidden GUI command option that built into Windows Vista operating system.

Exit or Kill and Restart Explorer in Windows XP and Windows Vista with Classic Start Menu without Automatic Restart

To terminate and stop the Explorer.exe in Windows XP and Windows Vista that is using Classic Start Menu, click on Start Menu and then click on Shutdown. Then, press and hold Ctrl + Alt + Shift keys combination, and then click on Cancel button on the dialog box.

Explorer.exe will exit, and won’t restart itself automatically. Exiting Explorer without restarting is useful for users who want to tryout or test plugins or shell extensions to be able to stop and restart Explorer quickly and cleanly without having to log out and log in again.

To start and run the Explorer (and return the desktop and other GUI components in Windows) again, press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open Task Manager. Then click on File -> New Task (Run…). Type explorer.exe and hit Enter to restart Explorer.

Terminate Explorer in Windows Vista Gracefully without Restarting (with Option to Start Manually)

In Windows Vista which is using standard Start Menu, user have to access a hidden command using the trick below in order to exit from Explorer.

Click on the Start button. Press and hold the Ctrl and Shift keys on keyboard, and then right click on any empty area in the Start Menu or on the Power or Lock buttons at the bottom of the right half of the menu. A Exit Explorer option will appear on the context menu, which when click, will tell Explorer to cleanly shut down.

Again, after Explorer terminated with the hack above, the Windows Shell which includes desktop, Start Menu and Taskbar will be closed and will not start itself immediately, although other applications are still running properly.

To restart a new Explorer.exe process to see the usual desktop, Start Menu, Task bar and other GUI components again, press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open Task Manager. Then click on File -> New Task (Run…). Type explorer.exe and hit Enter to restart Explorer.