Looking back at the 2008 financial crisis, researchers call it the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Trillions of dollars in value vanished as the stock market tanked between late 2007 and 2009. Unemployment rose — hitting 10 percent in October 2009 — and millions of Americans lost their homes. The crisis saw the largest bankruptcy in US history, and economists suspect that many more financial institutions would have failed if not for emergency loans from the government. Even after federal bailouts stopped the markets from hemorrhaging, aftershocks continued to shake economies worldwide.

In 2007, experts and regulators were not aware how much of the financial system was built on mortgage-backed securities, bolstered by a thriving housing market. When the housing bubble burst, it didn’t take long for things to start falling apart and for people to panic. “Once we got into that mode,” says Douglas Diamond, an economist at the University of Chicago, “the crisis became a very rapidly moving target that was very hard to stop.”

Click on the slideshow below for a look at some of the key events in the crisis, with commentary from those who lived through it:

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Photo of row houses illustrating booming housing market in early 2000s. By 2007, housing prices were falling.
Illustration of a house in a mouse trap, suggesting the coming burst of the housing bubble.
Photo of French bank BNP Paribas office, which froze major investment funds in August 2007, marking the start of a global credit crunch
Run on the bank. Photo shows a line of customers waiting to withdraw their money outside of Northern Rock bank in the UK.
“I think the ripple effects were most felt by Europe…. There were a number of European banks that went bust. In fact, a few countries also went bust.” — Raghuram Rajan, economist
JPMorgan building
David Wessel: Bear Stearns "was a big earthquake. That was when we knew this was not just going to be some minor thing."
Crest of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Photo of Fannie Mae building. The US government took control of the mortgage finance giant in September of 2008.
"We went into one of the most complicated and consequential financial crises in human history with very little in the way of a playbook."
Photo of Lehman Brothers building. The investment bank collapsed on September 15, 2008.
"Lehman was a shock. It was something that made [people] surprised. And once they are surprised and thinking about runs, then runs are very hard to avoid."
September 15, 2008: Bank of America announces it will buy failing Merrill Lynch & Co. for $50 billion.
Photo of AIG building
A graphic of a man riding a stock market roller coaster illustrates what many investors felt when the Reserve Primary Fund “broke the buck” in September 2008.
Raghuram Rajan: “Never did I really imagine the kind of full-fledged panic that we had.”
Sign in a Washington Mutual window states, "I'm becoming Chase." The US Office of Thrift Supervision closes Washington Mutual Bank in September of 2008.
Photo of Citibank sign. Citibank bought Wachovia’s banking assets in September 2008.
David Wessel: “Bailing out the banks was essential but it never was going to be popular.”
Photo of President George W. Bush signing the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, which set aside $700 billion to bail out failing companies.
October 2008: The British government bails out several banks.
Photo of auto lot. US Treasury bails out General Motors and Chrysler in December of 2008.
Photo of the US Treasury building. In 2009 the Treasury began “stress tests” on the nation’s largest banking institutions.
David Wessel: "They released the data on every individual bank. That seemed to be a moment where the whole thing turned around."
Photo of a foreclosure sign outside a home. US home foreclosures jumped 81 percent in 2008.
"Pretty much everything that was supposed to check the system failed. And that's why it was so bad."
Photo of the Wall Street Bull. June 2009 marks the end of the 18-month Great Recession.
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