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OK, it looks like most of my problems were related to the change of the first numerical user ID from 500 to 1000, and group membership issues. I changed the uid to 1000 using "usermod", searched for files/dirs belonging to uid/gid 500:500 with "find" and chowned them accordingly, and then in a fit of despair added the user to a lot of system groups with names that sounded right, like "audio", or "disk", or "cdrom". Lo and behold, upon reboot I got the normal mode instead of fallback, sound is working etc. Just one little thing that remained is that even though the Plymouth animation starts and runs OK, if I use it, I never get to the desktop. I need to hit Escape as soon as I see "spinfinity" starting, and then after I see all the systemd messages, I log into the normal mode. Strange. Oh, and /var/log/messages is still empty. But the rest works fine.