edited problem statement
the link to return from meta to the main site is not "parallel" to the link on the main site to meta. i found the latter under "help", but the link from meta to the main site is only under the stackexchange list.
in the original configuration, the link on the main site to meta was on the right, and there was a corresponding link on the meta page to the main site. nice! so when the new top bar appeared (unexpectedly for me), i looked (on the main page) for the meta link, and found one on the dropdown list under "help". okay, that makes some sense. so it was natural to look in the corresponding location on the meta page for the link to the main site. not there. confusing!
okay, i'm a creature of habit. when a feature that used to have a nicely parallel construction suddenly changes, i find that disconcerting. if the link had been removed from (near) the original location on both pages i would have looked more closely at the other features of the new bar instead of making assumptions.
irrespective of other perceived (and unrelated) problems (see the edit history), i still feel this is a design flaw.