Recently an app crashed on me. Worse, it left me staring at an empty desktop without icons. Only my wallpaper was visible. Restarting X had no effect. I tried dragging the icons out of the Desktop folder onto the visible desktop. They politely returned to the folder. The solution was to be found in the GNOME Configuration Editor.
The GNOME Configuration Editor is installed but not enabled by default. It is a powerful tool and should be used with caution only when needed. This was one of those times. To enable it, go to Applications>Preferences>Main Menu. In the left panel select System Tools. In the right panel check the box next to Configuration Editor. It is now enabled and obviously will appear under System Tools.
Start the Configuration Editor. Navigate the editor by clicking on the arrows next to the subsections. Click on the arrow next to apps. Then nautilus followed by preferences. Scroll down the options until you find the one called “show_desktop”. The box next to the option must be checked. To be sure, double click on the option and it should show a value of “True”. If it does not, recheck the box until it does.
The desktop icons on my machine reappeared. If you follow this procedure and you are not the sole user of the machine, you might want to go back and disable the editor for security.