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Windows XP Freezes up

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Yesterday I was working on my computer ~ had aout 14 different files open ~ and my computer just 'hung up'-- wouldn't do anything. I couldn't even get it to reboot from the task manager. I have turned it off and restarted several times, but when I reboot my computer, it seems to load everything and then just freezes up. Occassionally the icon has the hourglass, which makes me think something is running, but I can't even get to my Start Menu to shut down and restart, as nothing happens. I tried System Restore with the most recent date, but nothing changed.

I did a hard boot in safe mode - and it started up with limited options (no internet, no email) So, I tried to start in Safe Mode with networking, and got an error message saying
"the following file is missing or corrupt: \windows\system32\config\system"

Please help! I work at home and have now lost 2 days because my computer stopped working ~
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