That dark winter finally gave way to some welcome "green shoots" as spring arrived. The recovery appeared to be taking hold by summer and confidence rebounded in the fall.
A look at this year's winners and losers, and those who are a bit of both:
Big job losses combined with falling home values and stock prices to create a nation of cheapskates. And even though there have been some promising economic signs, Americans are sticking to frugality instead of returning to their spendthrift ways. Retailers have fed that fancy, offering deals on everything from clothes to coffee to cat food. Two of the biggest purchases most people make - homes and cars - are selling at steep price reductions. Merchants offering the best values came out ahead in 2009. Topping that list: Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
The social media world was stormed by Twitter in 2009. A year ago, it had 4 million users; now nearly 60 million people use it worldwide. By "tweeting," users share thoughts, activities, Web links and other information in messages no longer than 140 characters. Twitter has generated little revenue since its 2006 inception, yet private investors recently estimated the startup's market value at about $1 billion.
Ford Motor Co.
While rivals General Motors and Chrysler struggle to revive their ailing businesses, Ford is making money again. In the third quarter, it earned nearly $1 billion and the automaker said it would be solidly profitable by 2011. That's a stark contrast to the kind of year that GM and Chrysler had, which included trips into bankruptcy court protection and huge cash infusions from the government. Ford's cars, including the Fusion and Focus, are winning popular and critical acclaim, and its aggressive cost-cutting has helped it weather the recession.
Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis
Lewis began 2009 looking at the top of his game. While other banks were failing and faltering, Bank of America rang in the year with what seemed to be a smart acquisition of investment bank Merrill Lynch. Lewis' lap around the winner's circle ended fast. By late January, it was revealed that Lewis knew about bigger-than-expected losses at Merrill but never told shareholders. That marked the beginning of the end of his reign at BofA, a company he had worked for since 1969. Lewis announced in September that he would leave by year-end. He will be replaced by Brian Moynihan, who is BofA's consumer and small business banking chief.
The nation's unemployment rate has shot to above 10 percent, to levels not seen since the early 1980s. Some 15.4 million Americans are out of work, and that doesn't capture those who are working less time or for lower wages. The average jobless worker has been unemployed for more than six months. Even though there are indications that the recession may be over, many of the jobs lost in the downturn probably will not return, and high unemployment is likely to persist.
This Middle Eastern metropolis was considered Las Vegas and Disneyland wrapped into one, with its extravagant artificial residential islands, malls complete with indoor ski slopes and the world's largest tower. The global credit crunch crashed the party in November. That's when Dubai's main investment arm, Dubai World, announced it was seeking at least a six-month delay on repaying its $60 billion debt. An infusion of money from neighbor Abu Dhabi has helped settle the crisis a bit, but Dubai is now racing to save its battered image as a wealthy playground and business hub. Dubai's troubles also have left investors searching for the next country to be overwhelmed by debt.
A LITTLE BIT OF BOTH
A year ago, the banking giant sustained its first loss since becoming a public company in 1999. By the first quarter of 2009, Goldman was back to making money, helped in part by taxpayers and other government programs that let Goldman borrow cheaply. Goldman is on pace to pay its work force a record amount for the year. Now its reputation is in a free-fall. Its executives aren't helping to quiet the public discontent: Last month, CEO Lloyd Blankfein told a British newspaper that he was just a banker "doing God's work."
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke
Bernanke is widely credited with helping keep the Great Recession from becoming a second Great Depression. That came through extraordinary measures taken by the Fed to stabilize the financial system, which included pushing down interest rates to ultra low levels and letting banks borrow cheaply from the central bank. But Bernanke is still under attack for bailing out Wall Street, while ordinary Americans are struggling under the crush of high unemployment, stagnant incomes and rising foreclosures. The Senate Banking Committee on Thursday voted 16-7 to send Bernanke's nomination to run the central bank for another four years to the full Senate for consideration.