You appear to be creating a data visualization tool... all you need to do is add some more logic for auto-summarization (pie chart based on row type, bar charts, etc). If you weren't thinking of going this route, think about it... it will add a lot of value for a very moderate amount of work.
But back to the task. If you have the luxury of a graphical interface, I would recommend a directed graph. When you select a node (table) the graph shows all the tables that link into or out of that table. When you select a second node, the system adds all the tables that link into that second node as well. The directed graph should display directional arrows, and you could optimize many-to-many tables out so they just display a <--> link (and the linking table is invisible).
The complexity is managed by only displaying tables that are relevant (linked) from already chosen tables. The starting tables can also be pruned... you will never have people selecting from the States table as a starter, since it is just used to populate the Address table... which you also would likely skip in favor of the Customer or User table. So the initial list of tables to start from can be pruned. Once they have a starter table, of course you would allow the underlying tables to be selected (User -> Address -> State).
Each node of this graphical interface could display the column count. You could also have three choices... 'basic', 'common', and 'full'. Basic columns would just include identifiers and maybe the most important item (ID, Username). Common might include a limited set of the most common columns (ID, Username, First, Last), and Full would include every column in that table that is not proscribed (perhaps not Password, for example). This selection could be made with a right-click.
A circular reference chain could highlight the links that form the circle, and the user can select the one to 'break' so that the query is not circular (highlight links participating in the circular refernence, scissors cursor, change link to a dotted line on hover, fade it on selection)
The downside to this method is that it would not be easy to deal with the same table used in two different contexts... a common example being User -> User relationships (ie, manager vs direct report). However, there are ways to deal with this issue as well. For example, if you start with Employee, you could display the links in this fashion:
Direct Report -> Employee -> Manager
Starting with the middle item selected, you have people who report to that person, and you have the person they report to. This type of reference can be extracted from basic column information (fk_manager); the incoming reference would need additional meta-data (such as a reverse translation table with a row
manager:direct report). All three tables displayed are the same Employee table, but in a different context. This also allows you to display the same linked tables in each context... for example, the above node graph would have three Address tables, one linked to each of the three Employee contexts.
Unless your schema is quite simple, you may also want to dynamically only display linked tables on hover... so only the most recent selected node you hover on will display the linked nodes. Make sure not to move the item under the cursor when animating the change, to avoid animation jitter.