[Fix] Error “Windows cannot find taskmgr.exe” Opening Task Manager

When attempting to open the Task Manager in your Windows computer, you may receive the following error:

taskmgr.exe cannot be found - debugger

Windows cannot find ‘C:\Windows\system32\Taskmgr.exe’. Make sure you typed the name correctly, and then try again.

This error occurs no matter which method you use in order to launch Task Manager. Running taskmgr.exe with the full path via Run dialog will also not work.

(Go directly to solution)

Corrupt Taskmgr.exe file? Most likely not!

Obviously, the first thing anyone would do is run the System File Checker (sfc /scannow command) to see if the file Taskmgr.exe has become corrupt. Then you’ll find that the file integrity checks (signature/file size) using sfc /verifyfile and sfc /scanfile would come out just fine. Yet the issue occurs.

sfc scan taskmgr.exe file integrity

So what’s causing the Taskmgr.exe error? The “debugger” registry setting is!

The error occurs due to a “debugger” registry value set for Taskmgr.exe executable. This is either done by malware. Or it could be a legitimate app, a third-party process manager which you may have installed and then removed.

process explorer - replace task manager - debuggerFor example, the Process Explorer utility from Microsoft Sysinternals sets the debugger registry value when you enable the setting Replace Task Manager via the Options menu in Process Explorer.

As Process Explorer is a portable application, you can move the executable anywhere. If you had deleted or moved the file to a different folder, the “debugger” registry value would still be pointing to the old folder location. Hence the Taskmgr.exe error.

tips bulb iconTip: Other legitimate uses of the debugger registry value

Here is a couple of legitimate and clever uses of the Image File Execution Options → Debugger registry value.

Malware connection? Could be!

malware bug iconIf you’re not using a third-party process manager and yet the error occurs, this could be a handiwork of some malware. Some anti-malware scanners alert you about the presence of the debugger registry value, sensing it as a possible hijack attempt.


HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options\TASKMGR.EXE

HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options\TASKMGR.EXE#Debugger

While the Image File Execution OptionsDebugger registry value is to give developers the option to debug their software, malware writers make good (bad) use of this key to hijack programs. See Malwarebytes Labs article An Introduction to Image File Execution Options | Malwarebytes Labs for more information.

How to Fix the “Windows cannot find Taskmgr.exe” Error?

To fix the error ‘Windows cannot find ‘C:\Windows\system32\Taskmgr.exe’, all you need to do is remove the ‘debugger’, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click Start, click Run (WinKey + R)
  2. Type Regedit.exe and press ENTER
  3. Go to the following registry key:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options\taskmgr.exe

    Look what the registry value named Debugger is pointing to. This tells you which program has hijacked or replaced Taskmgr.exe. In case of obscure file names appearing as the debugger, it could be malware. Delete the value and run a thorough scan using Malwarebytes Antimalware or any other reputed malware and virus scanner.

  4. Right-click the taskmgr.exe key, and choose Delete.
    taskmgr.exe cannot be found error - debugger registry value
  5. Exit the Registry Editor.

You should be able to launch Task Manager (Ctrl + Shift + Esc) now.

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Ramesh Srinivasan is passionate about Microsoft technologies and he has been a consecutive ten-time recipient of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award in the Windows Shell/Desktop Experience category, from 2003 to 2012. He loves to troubleshoot and write about Windows. Ramesh founded Winhelponline.com in 2005.

33 thoughts on “[Fix] Error “Windows cannot find taskmgr.exe” Opening Task Manager”

  1. I realized that my application was renamed to “Taskmgr.exe” rather than the default; “taskmgr.exe”. Thank you so much!

  2. OMG it got fixed the problem was i replaced task manager with process explorer and then i deleted it the i followed this article found the debugger and deleted that regestiry key and done!

  3. Didnt work for me when I did the command thing with windows r it say its not a command please try again ive been trying evertything for months and its not working I guess I have to carry it to repair

  4. i got the same problem but inside the registory editor i cant find the taskmgr.exe file to delete and its still showing the same pop up when i press task manager . i have another problem now all the word files ppt files and all others changed into a efdc file i cant open anything what should i do ?


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