OS News reports the Start Menu is now completely gone in the Consumer Preview of Windows 8. The role of the start menu was already severely reduced in previous beta releases of Windows 8, and now the Windows 7 taskbar acts solely as a taskbar in Windows 8's desktop mode. There may still be some hope for the Start menu though, as the decision is not entirely final.
The Consumer Preview has already been leaked all over the web, and it has been confirmed that it no longer contains the Start button (or orb, since Vista) or the Start menu. This is actually not all that surprising, considering the start menu's functionality had already been reduced severely in previous beta releases. Now, it's gone completely, with the Windows 7 taskbar in Windows 8's desktop mode now acting solely as a taskbar.
The Verge has confirmed with its sources at Microsoft that the start button has been replaced by a hot corner (for mouse operation) and a gesture (for touch) which essentially serve as a means to switch between the Metro interface and the traditional desktop. On mouse activation, a thumbnail will appear of the mode you're switching to (Metro or desktop).