The Labor Department said 16,000 fewer initial claims for benefits were filed in the latest week, dropping the total to 339,000.
The Dow Jones industrial average has wobbled recently, but the Standard & Poor's 500 rose for its fifth consecutive session, gaining 6.37 points or 0.4 percent to 1,585.16.
The DJIA added 24.50 points or 0.17 percent to 14,700.80. The Nasdaq composite index of tech-dominated stocks gained 20.33 points or 0.62 percent to 3,289.99.
On the New York Stock Exchange, 1,965 stocks advanced and 1,083 declined on a volume of 3.8 billion shares traded.
Gold gained $41.20 to reach $1,464.90 per troy ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. NYMEX West Texas Intermediate crude oil closed at $93.32 per barrel, up $1.89.
The 10-year U.S. treasury note fell 1/32 to yield 1.713 percent.
Against the dollar, the euro was lower at $1.3009 from Wednesday's $1.3016. Against the yen, the dollar fell to 99.32 yen from 99.50 yen.
The Nikkei 225 in Japan added 0.6 percent or 227.49 points to finish at 13,926.08.
The FTSE 100 index in Britain added 0.17 percent or 10.83 points to reach 6,442.59.
On the Chicago Board of Trade, corn for July delivery gained 6.75 cents to reach $6.25 per bushel. July soybeans added 24.75 cents to $13.70 and July wheat added 12.5 cents to settle at $7.0425.
Notable deaths of 2014 [PHOTOS]