iPhoto will not empty trash with that amount of photos in it without problems, experienced users recommend deleting in batches of about 100 or so.
It's likely that this crashing has caused damage to the database
Try these in order - from best option on down...
1. Do you have an up-to-date back up? If so, try copy the library6.iphoto file from the back up to the iPhoto Library (Right Click -> Show Package Contents) allowing it to overwrite the damaged file.
2. Download iPhoto Library Manager and use its rebuild function. (In Library Manager it's the FIle -> Rebuild command)
This will create an entirely new library. It will then copy (or try to) your photos and all the associated metadata and versions to this new Library, and arrange it as close as it can to what you had in the damaged Library. It does this based on information it finds in the iPhoto sharing mechanism - but that means that things not shared won't be there, so no slideshows, books or calendars, for instance - but it should get all your events, albums and keywords, faces and places back.
Because this process creates an entirely new library and leaves your old one untouched, it is non-destructive, and if you're not happy with the results you can simply return to your old one.
3. If neither of these work then you'll need to create and populate a new library.
To create and populate a new *iPhoto 08* library:
Note this will give you a working library with the same Events and pictures as before, however, you will lose your albums, keywords, modified versions, books, calendars etc.
In the iPhoto Preferences -> Events Uncheck the box at 'Imported Items from the Finder'
Move the iPhoto Library to the desktop
Launch iPhoto. It will ask if you wish to create a new Library. Say Yes.
Go into the iPhoto Library (Right Click -> Show Package Contents) on your desktop and find the Originals folder. From the Originals folder drag the individual Event Folders to the iPhoto Window and it will recreate them in the new library.
When you're sure all is well you can delete the iPhoto Library on your desktop.
In the future, in addition to your usual back up routine, you might like to make a copy of the library6.iPhoto file whenever you have made changes to the library as protection against database corruption.
Thanks for the detailed and informative answer. I will try your suggestions as soon as I can.
Now though, it seems that the problem has expanded. I ran MacKeeper to try to delete files and now all my programs crash. Excel and Word won't even open. I couldnt get into Firefox or Safari to check email until I went to MK and turned off the "recommended" real time protection.
I don't have a recent backup so maybe some items will be lost (like my sister's wedding - oops).
Your suggestion about deleting in batches sounds good. But how can I delete the photos in my iPhoto trash without actually opening the trash in iPhoto? These files must be accessible through Finder, but where?