The Nasdaq fell the hardest as investors pulled back from the stocks that carried the index to its biggest gain in more than four years the day before. Decliners included Apple Inc, Google Inc and Research In Motion Ltd.
Trading was volatile, with major indexes surging at the opening bell as oil companies' shares surged in sync with a rebound in oil prices and financial stocks rose after Bear Stearns Cos Inc forecast additional credit losses that were not as steep as some had feared. Bear Stearns shares finished up 2.4 percent.
In the broader market, the gains quickly gave way to profit taking, particularly in the tech sector.
A dampened sales outlook from department store operator Macy's Inc soured initial optimism surrounding a relatively healthy reading of retail sales and sparked a drop in chain store operators' shares.
Investors were also cautious before the U.S. Consumer Price Index for October is released on Thursday.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 83.16 points, or 0.62 percent, to end at 13,223.93. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index closed down 10.59 points, or 0.72 percent, at 1,470.33. The Nasdaq Composite Index slid 29.33 points, or 1.10 percent, to finish at 2,644.32.