I tried a host of solutions from various sources, but all of them failed, perhaps because my computer didn't come with a normal OS CD, but rather with a factory ghost image of the machine. And instead of Windows XP Professional, it has Windows XP Tablet Edition, which is different in some significant ways. So when I tried to use the Recovery Console on my spare copy of Windows XP, nothing worked. Eventually, one solution (overwriting the hal.dll with a copy from the CD) caused the error to go away, only to be replaced by a completely blank screen. That was no good.
My hard drive had bad sectors. I knew this. I've had to reformat several times, with increasing frequency. I backed things up, but not regularly enough. So some project work, pictures (including those of Christmas and my recent snowshoeing trip) are trapped in this bad hard drive. I decided to just buy a new hard drive and let someone with expertise do data recovery. So I used my Best Buy gift card (thanks, David!) to get myself a new hard drive, which also happens to be more than twice the original size. Hopefully a data recovery pro can get those images and files back, but I don't have high hopes.
Now, I have worked on the innards of desktop computers, but never a laptop. Things are snug and intense inside a laptop. But I went ahead and did the deed, popping out the old hard drive and inserting the new. As you might notice on the picture above, there is actual frigging corrosion on the hard drive. Not a good sign. That probably explains some of the sizzling noises I've heard from this drive in the past.
I took out the drive, which was held in a small cage. I then tried to extract the drive from the cage, but the screws holding it in were of such poor quality, that with little force I was destroying the top of the screw. Finally I was able to get the drive out and gently screwed the new drive into the cage and maneuvered it into the laptop. Currently I am installing the factory image back onto the laptop, while I type this out on my work laptop. We shall see how this turns out.