Mac Desktop Empty: How to Restore Missing/Disappeared Mac Desktop Files and Icons

Follow through the two parts below to display your disappeared Mac desktop icons and restore the lost files with ease:

Workable Solutions Step-by-step Troubleshooting
Phrase 1. Display Missing iCons Method 1. Use Finder...Full steps
Method 2. Use Time Machine Backup...Full steps
Phrase 2. Get Missing Files Method 1. Use Mac File Recovery Software...Full steps
Method 2. Use iCloud Backup...Full steps
Method 3. Use Stacks...Full steps
Method 4. Use Trash...Full steps

Everything on My Mac Desktop Disappeared, Help

There are two common cases of content disappeared on the Mac desktop, one is having everything disappeared, and the other is only desktop files got disappeared. No matter which dilemma you have stuck in, you can find solutions on this page and make your Mac desktop icon showing and restore all missing files on your own.

Why Did Everything on My Desktop Disappear on Mac?

You might be confused about why the files and icons on your Mac desktop got missing. Here we have listed some normal reasons:

Don't panic when you first find the files and icons disappeared, restart your Mac and check if these items are displayed again. If a restart doesn't work, refer to the following points to see if you can restore disappeared files and icons from the desktop.

Part 1. Show and Retrieve Missing Mac iCons

Mac icons disappear usually happens after macOS installation or upgrade. In most cases, icons are lost due to accidental deletion or because some application overwrites the desktop display settings. Luckily, you can show the disappeared Mac desktop icons by using either of the following methods.

Method 1. Use Finder to Show Missing Mac iCons

Step 1. Click on the Finder icon on your desktop.

Step 2. From the menu bar, select "Finder Preferences".

Step 3. In the Finder Preferences window that opens, click the "General" tab.

Step 4. Place a checkmark next to the items you wish to display on the desktop. 

display the mac missing drive icon again

You'll see a list of devices that can have their associated icon displayed on your desktop, make sure the relevant options are checked. After this, close the Finder Preferences window. The selected items will display on the desktop again.

Method 2. Retrieve Mac Desktop iCons from Times Machine Backup

Pre-condition: You have created a Time Machine backup of your Mac desktop before the icons and files missed.

Time Machine backup is another way that you can try to bring back the lost desktop icons. Let's see how to retrieve the disappeared Mac desktop icons:

Step 1. Connect the external Time Machine backup disk to Mac. Enter "Time Machine" from the Time Machine menu. 

Step 2. Use the timeline or up and down arrow browse and select the backup point. 

Step 3. Press the "Space" bar to preview and see whether it's the one you want.

Step 4. Click "Restore" to restore the selected file.

Restore from Time Machine backup

After this, you can view and check items like icons saved on your Mac desktop again, including the missing files.

Part 2. Recover Missing Desktop Files/Folders on Mac

If it is the files and folders on your desktop disappeared, you should apply other methods to bring them back. Here we have listed 5 possible ways for you to try, note that the former method is presented, the more effective it will be. 

Quick Fix: Check if the desktop files are hidden

Mac has a built-in application called Terminal. Using this application, you can search, delete, or modify files and folders. This method will close Mac Terminal and shows all hidden files on your desktop. If this technique doesn't work, try other methods mentioned below. Here are the steps:

Step 1. Go to Mac terminal on Mac.

Step 2. Type defaults write AppleShowAllFiles true and press Return.

Step 3. Type killall Finder and hit Return. 

Show hidden files on Mac

Method 1. Restore Missing Files/Folders with File Recovery Software

Applies to: All levels of Mac users to restore missing Mac desktop files and folders.

A professional Mac data recovery software can help you retrieve files and folders lost due to false operation. Here we recommend you to apply the Deep Data Recovery for Mac. This software is developed to scan the storage device and recover lost data. Let's check the key features of this data recovery tool in detail:

Now download Deep Data Recovery for Mac and follow the steps below to restore missing desktop files and folders.

Moreover, if you only need to recover a few files less than 2GB, you may try the free version of Deep Data Recovery for Mac. It works exactly the same as the pro version.

Steps to Restore Missing/Lost Mac Desktop Files

Step 1. Select the file types. Click the "Next" button.

Select file types that you want to recover

Step 2. Select the disk location (it can be an internal HDD/SSD or a removable storage device) where you lost data and files. Click the "Scan" button.

select a location and click scan

Step 3. Deep Data Recovery for Mac will immediately scan your selected disk volume and display the scanning results on the left pane.

start scan on the Mac

Step 4. In the scan results, select the file(s) and click the "Recover" button to have them back.

After this, you can save the found files back to your Mac desktop and use them again.

Method 2. Restore Lost Mac Desktop Files via iCloud Backup

Applies to: iCloud users who have set up iCloud to Sync Mac files, restore missing Mac desktop files from iCloud backup.

If you have synced Mac files to your iCloud, you can immediately bring the lost or missing desktop files like documents back via your iCloud account.

Here are the steps:

Step 1. Go to and sign in with your account and password.

Step 2. Click iCloud Settings and scroll to the bottom, click "Restore Files" under the Advanced section.

Find cloud backup

Step 3. Find and tick the boxes of your lost files on Mac, and click "Restore". 

Recover from iCloud

Method 3. Use Stacks to Find Missing Desktop Files on Mac

Applies to: Re-organize and make Mac desktop files show up.

On the latest macOS on your computer, such as macOS Catalina, Mojave, you can use Stacks on your computer to automatically organize your desktop files by file type.

When you lose or missing files on the Mac desktop, try Stacks. It may surprise you.

Step 1. On the Mac desktop, right-click an empty space to bring up the Context Menu.

Step 2. Uncheck "Use Stacks".

Step 3. Repeat Step 1 again, and check "Use Stacks" this time. 

Restore desktop files on Mac using Stacks

After this, you may find the missing files back on your desktop again.

Method 4. Restore Missing Mac Desktop Files from Trash

Applies to: All levels of Mac users to bring deleted files saved on Mac desktop from Trash.

When you lost files on Mac desktop, you may mistakenly drag them into the Trash bin. Then you can try to find them in the Trash.

Here are the steps: 

Step 1. Open Trash Bin on Mac desktop, find the files that you lost.

Step 2. Drag the files you want to recover back to the desktop.

Or you can right-click on the file and select "Put Back".

Mac Trash recovery


On this page, we explained why do the desktop icons and folders disappeared on Mac, and also covered several practical methods to help you find and restore these missing icons.

Mac desktop items disappeared is not a common problem, but once it happens, it would be quite annoying. Hope you can solve your problem through this article. More importantly, to prevent problems like data loss from happening again, it is highly recommended for you backup your Mac regularly. 

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