Hi, I agree with Willy, data recovery services can be effective but are very expensive. Ontrack data recovery used to have a free help line that you could call, describe your problem and they would offer advice as to the best approach - often using their services but not always. You'd have to research them in your country. They are very good but not cheap.
From your notes, I think you recognise that it is important not to change the disk in any way until you are nearer understanding the solution. Recovery disk and partitions tend to wipe data. Be careful!
Bob's suggestion is very helpful in a lot of cases, if you know what you are doing. Essentially you hang the corrupt disk off a cable or put it in a caddy that you can plug into another working machine. It gets you round the situation where the corruption is stopping your machine from booting. If you aren't comfortable with that explanation, it likely isn't for you.
Another option is to get hold of a Linux Live CD - I like Knoppix for this. If you have access to a working machine or a friend with one, you can download the iso for free and burn it into a CD. You then boot your machine from the CD - don't worry, the bits you want are all in the GUI via your mouse - and then you can mount the corrupt disk read only and you may be able to see the files. If so, just copy them to an external drive (Linux is a lot more tolerant of less than perfect files - it works on content).
If all this fails and you can't afford the cost of professional recovery, there are utilities that can repair SOME forms of disk corruption. One such is Partition Table Doctor (Google it) which can repair corruption in the Partition Table, Boot Sector and File Allocation Table. NOTE these tools can be VERY dangerous to your data - if you don't feel that your skills or understanding of disk structures is strong enough, don't try it yourself, find someone who does know.
Finally, I'll say it since nobody else has! If and when you get your files back, the FIRST thing you should do is make two independent backups before you do anything else, then keep the backups up to date.