I would suggest that you try booting into your recovery partition and running a disk verify/disk repair first. Based on your description, I would be concerned that you may have some sort of disk corruption going on if anything that accesses the disk is taking forever to process, and sometimes it doesn't let you access the files on the disk...
The startup time is longer because in an attempt to improve security, Apple has changed how programs work. The computer now has more tests to run before starting.
Try booting into the Safe Mode. Shut down the computer and then power it back up. Immediately after hearing the startup chime, hold down the shift key and continue to hold it until the gray Apple icon and a progress bar appear. The boot up is significantly slower than normal. This will reset some caches, forces a directory check, and disables all startup and login items, among other things. If the system operates normally, there may be 3rd party applications which are causing a problem. Try deleting/disabling the third party applications after a restart by using the application unistaller. For each disable/delete, you will need to restart if you don't do them all at once.
Things to try for Spotlight.
If you decide to go back to Snow Leopard.
Well, that did not resolve things. Once I rebooted in regular mode, the problem persists unabated. I cannot open anything in Finder. All of my folders just open as if there is nothing in there.
So I spoke with a person at Apple support. They led me through the process of disk verification and disk repair that Geek Boy recommended. That also did not fix things though it found a lot of things to correct. They then suggested I upgrade my memory from 4gb to 8gb. However, Apple will not install this at their stores for liability reasons. What a cluster. So because I upgrade to M. Lion I have to throw down 200 bucks and then operate on my computer? I'm not convinced it's a RAM issue since my activity monitor shows plenty of space. So upon perusinga few other forums I tried fixing some problems with Finder.
However, I had to work through Terminal (with help from techy friends) because I could not pull anything up in Finder because this is the big issue... it does not seem to work (the big issue I'm having). But this deleting these processes did not help at all. Man, this is awful. Yesterday, I had a smooth streamlined Macbook. Today I can't do any work at all!!
After Step 3:
Step 4 (I anonymized my @me address with ###s):
Unity Web Player.plugin
Adobe Unit Types.osax
Library/Address Book Plug-Ins:
You also have a partial installation of Norton. I don't think it's functional, but it should be removed too. If all else fails, you'll have to erase the startup volume, reinstall OS X, and restore only your user data and settings from a backup. After that, reinstall all your third-party software from scratch, not including the unnecessary items.