It's official: The S&P 500 is back in positive territory for 2009. It feels good, but the sobering reality of the milestone is that as strong as the market rally has been since mid-March, it has only been good enough to rub out the damage from the first two months and change of the year.

Clearly, many stocks have come back to life since bottoming out either in late November or early March. However, some stocks have really bounced back.

Let's take a look at a few stocks that have more than tripled off their recent lows.

 

Low

May 4, 2009

Gain

Tree.com (NASDAQ:TREE)

$1.42

$9.48

568%

Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI)

$0.05

$0.40

700%

Liberty Media  (NASDAQ:LCAPA)

$2.33

$12.99

458%

Bare Escentuals (NASDAQ:BARE)

$2.45

$9.49

287%

Every triple tells a homer of a story
Tree.com, the parent of LendingTree.com, was supposed to be the ugly duckling in the IAC (NASDAQ:IACI) breakup. When IAC divided into five distinct companies, Tree.com was quickly forgotten. Between the lender lead generator LendingTree.com and residential realty's RealEstate.com, it was the wrong sector at the wrong time.

It certainly feels a lot rosier these days. Last week, Tree.com shocked investors by generating a healthy profit when a narrow loss was expected. The company also posted top-line gains compared with the previous quarter, with rock-bottom rates stimulating new loan applications.

Sirius XM and Liberty Media became intersecting stories when Liberty Media offered $530 million in financing and emerged with a 40% interest in Sirius XM in February. The important distinction here is that while Sirius XM bottomed out earlier in the month, Liberty Media had hit bottom two months earlier. Shares of Liberty Media had already doubled off their lows before it tossed the satellite radio provider a lifeline.

Bare Escentuals is coming off a better than expected quarterly report, with the minerals-based cosmetics specialist helping to curb nagging concerns over buoyant inventory levels and receivables.

If you want to learn from the top, start at the bottom
They're not the only companies on a tear these days. Gunmaker Sturm, Ruger (NYSE:RGR) and China Finance Online (NASDAQ:JRJC) -- up 180% and 200%, respectively -- have also delivered huge gains.

They have great stories to tell, too. Sturm, Ruger has experienced a spike in demand, fueled by fears about crime and the potential tightening of gun ownership laws. Market data specialist China Finance Online has been rolling as Chinese equities have bounced back into favor.

However, looking at the catalysts behind these monstrous gains ignores the ridiculous starting lines. The fundamentals have certainly improved, but colossal capital appreciation wouldn't have been possible if pessimism wasn't deep and sticky just a few months ago.

Tree.com seemed to be a throwaway subsidiary when the "For Sale" signs were out. Sirius XM even conceded it was considering Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, just days before Liberty Media showed up. Bare Escentuals was destined to become another company done in by bloated inventory levels that few were buying.

In short, all of these major movers were fertile ground for renegade contrarians and little else. This doesn't mean that investors should be kissing every frog they see. However, it's one more reason to take a chance on the fallen if you can visualize the catalysts.

Tree.com had an asset-rich balance sheet. With 19 million subscribers, no one was going to let Sirius XM fail. Liberty Media is in the admirable position of playing vulture in a moribund media sector. Makeup remains an all-weather purchase in good times and bad.

The market rally has certainly helped boost these high-flying stocks, but you can't appreciate where they are -- or where they're heading -- without knowing where they've been.  

Bare Escentuals and China Finance Online are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz realizes that more people hang out at the finish line than on the starting blocks. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.