I apologize in advance if this is in the wrong forum, but the oddness of this issue kind of made it difficult to classify.
Some background info: My laptop is an HP and runs Windows 7 Home Edition (64 bit). Because the nature of my computer problem prevents me from viewing any of the specs, I could not fill out a lot of the computer info in my profile. By default, everything (including the OS) installed on the C: drive, which is the system's primary hard disk (~500 GB). There is a D: drive, but I honestly can't remember what it's for.
Yesterday I was browsing the CBS news website when my computer spontaneously restarted itself. As it restarted, it showed a black screen that said "Windows is loading files" with a gray loading bar. After about a minute of that, it went to cloudy blue sky background, and a Windows 98-esque dialog box came up, labeled "Startup Repair". The box said "Your Computer was unable to start. Startup Repair is checking your system for problems". Again, a couple minutes pass and nothing comes of it, so it brings up a black, fullscreen menu for HP's "Recovery Manager".
The middle column of options, labeled "I'd like to identify any problems", has a "Run Computer Checkup" box. I chose the option "Launch Check Disk for the Windows Partition". CHKDSK runs, then brings me back to the previous screen, at which point I ran "Launch Check Disk for the Recovery Partition". Again, no results.
I go back to the Recovery Manager, and the left column is labeled "I need help immediately". The latter two options are for a complete system recovery, which would return the computer to the original factory condition and wipe out all of my files and programs. Not wanting to resort to that, I chose the first option, "Microsoft System Restore", Long story short, none of the 3 restore points are able to fix the issue, and the last step of the restore process (restarting the computer) just brings me back to the "windows is loading files" screen I described before.
I'm not sure if it's relevant, but I noticed that when selecting a restore point, the "confirm disks to restore" dialog box says "You must always restore the drive that contains Windows. Restoring other drives is optional". There are two checkbox choices below: "Local Disk (C:) (System)" with its status listed as "Ready to Restore". Next to it is a checked box which is grayed out, and thus can't be unchecked. The second option on the list is "Local Disk (C:) with its status listed as "The drive cannot be found". Next to it is an unchecked, grayed-out box which cannot be checked. Again, proceeding with this fails to restore the system.
Thus, I go back to the recovery manager to find the right-hand column of options, labeled "I'd like to take precautions". I click the "File Backup Program" option, and select the type of files I wish to make a backup of (music, movies, docs, etc). It then takes me to a screen that says "Scanning: The File Backup WIzard is creating a list of files to back up. This process may take several minutes. As it creates the backup, it shows a progress bar and one line of text, which is a real-time path to all of the files its including in the backup. At this point, I recognize my entire folder and file hierarchy, except that everything is listed as originating on the D: drive (eg "D:/Program Files/music/"), whereas normally everything is on my C drive. I allow the backup to continue, and save the 133 GB file on an external hard drive.
I also wanted to note that at one point during this (I forget where, exactly), I clicked a "Help" button, which brought up a notepad file. Using File->Open, I was able to view all of the contents of my machine, except the names of the C and D drives seemed to be switched - "D" was listed as the 500 GB drive, and included everything that should be on C, such as Program Files, the Windows folder, etc. "C" was listed as a small (~30 MB) drive with essentially nothing in it (at least nothing that notepad could open).
I'm so sorry for the novel-length explanation, but that's about as condensed as I cold make it without omitting what may be crucial details. Does anyone have the slightest idea what is going on here, or what may have caused my computer to just crash like this? Are there any diagnostics/solutions for this, or should I throw in the towel and restore it to its factory condition? Thank you in advance for any help you can provide.