His return echoes similar steps taken by other technology-related companies that have fallen on hard times in recent years, including Xerox, which was forced to turn to a former chief executive officer after a failed management succession plan.
At the same time, Corning laid the ground for another big round of job cuts to keep pace with the collapse in demand for optical equipment over the past 18 months.
The company also ended a series of profit warnings as it said that it expected to report a loss of 10 cents a share for the first quarter, less than the 17 cents a share that most analysts had expected.
However, it added that revenues, at around $900m, were likely to be lower than Wall Street forecasts, reflecting continuing weak demand for telecoms equipment.
Mr Houghton, 66, stepped down as Corning's chief executive officer in 1996 after leading the glassmaker for 13 years. The company's involvement in the communications had begun with its invention of optical fiber, though its fortunes only became closely tied to the industry with the boom in optical communications in the late-1990s.
Corning said that Mr Houghton, who was already non-executive chairman, will return to the CEO position, replacing John Loose, 60. It also named Wendell Weeks, 42, the head of its optical communications business, to the additional post of president and chief operating officer, while James Flaws, chief financial officer, will become a vice chairman.