I kind of got this working with help from a friend - by that I mean we managed to get past the "Restoring resolver state..." and successfully log in.
The solution was two-part. I removed all packages related to latest Linux kernel (3.19.0-51) since that got updated with the automatic update that messed things up.
tail -n50 /var/log/apt/history.log to see what got updated (adjust -n as needed).
This got me to the login screen, but then I was unable to login. I checked for issues with "Login loop" here on askubuntu.com, but it turned out permissions were okay and the issue was not with lightdm. One of the answers pointed to an issue with graphics, so I looked around for a way to update the graphic drivers without using nvidia-current package.
I followed instructions in this OP http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=2263316 with a couple of differences; I didn't pull the latest linux kernel packages and didn't just remove nvidia drivers, I purged them (copied from the link):
sudo gedit /etc/default/grub change line
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="nouveau.blacklist=1 quiet splash nomodeset" #(forces low-level graphics to ensure putty does not give black screen)
sudo apt-get purge nvidia* && sudo apt-get autoremove
After the reboot I was able to login. I proceeded to install latest nvidia drivers from a .run file as per instructions, but that just threw me back to the login loop issue.
I purged nvidia drivers again, and was able to log in successfully. The downside now is that I can't seem to use the "Cycle multiple monitors" feature of VMWare Player (could be vmware tools issue, but don't want to mess with it now), but at least I can get back to work.
I'll update this answer if I get a solution that works with latest updates.