Delta topped profit estimates, sending its shares 2.9 percent higher and boosting other airline stocks.
BlackRock gained 1.8 percent after the asset manager’s profit rose more than expected.
The earnings season begins in earnest on Friday with reports from JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup Inc and Wells Fargo & Co.
Analysts expect quarterly profit for S&P 500 companies to rise 18.4 percent from a year ago, the biggest gain in seven years, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
“There is a hopeful optimism that a very solid earnings quarter will settle things down and allow stocks to move higher,” said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors in Boston.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 324.09 points, or 1.34 percent, to 24,513.54, the S&P 500 gained 24.64 points, or 0.93 percent, to 2,666.83 and the Nasdaq Composite added 77.80 points, or 1.1 percent, to 7,146.82.
Investor sentiment was also boosted by a U.S. initial jobless claims report that pointed to sustained labor market strength.
Facebook was a notable laggard among technology stocks, falling 1.4 percent following a 5.3 percent gain over the past two days when Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress on the social network’s data security.
Bed Bath & Beyond Inc shares dived 19.5 percent after the company’s full-year profit forecast missed estimates.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE for a 1.50-to-1 ratio and on the Nasdaq, for a 2.17-to-1 ratio.
(Additional reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru and Chuck Mikolajczak in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski)