I've experienced pretty much the same symptoms on a fresh SuSE 8.2 installation. If you've had any insights as to what is going on I'd be much obliged for any advice.
In my case, I'd just managed to install my winmodem properly, and was trying out browsers last night (newbie convert from Windows). After running a few instances of Galeon, I found my desktop had changed over from KDE to Gnome, and clicking on the KDE desktop icon just brought up a smallish window, white background, with some of the objects that are on my KDE desktop in it. This "desktop window" would not close, irrespective of whether I clicked on the 'Close' button or used ALT-F4. The Linux session would not close down either, and I had to crash out with my power button.
This morning, I booted up and tried to run K-Mail. The Gnome desktop had gone, but my mouse cursor froze, my hard drive light went on full time, and my whole system went totally sluggish. First message I got was that Nautilus was searching my drives for 'Trash folders' , and later one that said that Nautilus-throbber had crashed (fatal error or suchlike, error message 2147), then the system started spawning desktop folders (I'm not sure whether these were Galeon or Nautilus), up to 30 at one stage, as well as error messages (not sure which app, but definitely Gnome-like) to the effect that the app concerned had failed to enter "icon view' (about 19 of those). All the while, my hard drive light was on, and whatever was searching the drive was sucking almost the entire system resources.
On the odd occasion when I got my mouse to respond, I tried to right-click and close these, and sometimes a few would go off, only to be replaced by new desktop folders.
I couldn't even get a Konsole to come up, so I went into text mode [Shift-Alt-F2] to run killall, and eventually got the flood to subside by killing nautilus AND bonobo. Btw, it's [Alt-F7] to get back to a graphical interface.
I was not playing around with firewall installation, so I would believe that you need not look further in that direction. Please keep me posted if you get advice on this