Bale, who will be Madrid’s main man for a few games after Cristiano Ronaldo’s three-match ban was confirmed by Spanish authorities, thundered in a wonderful long-range strike with 18 minutes remaining.
It was actually an important goal as, until that point, Real had been toiling to protect the narrow lead given to them by Asier Illarramendi’s first-half drive.
Substitute Isco added a late third as Real continued to keep the pressure on Barcelona, who must win at Real Sociedad later on Saturday if they are to retain top spot.
It was a strange match, not least for the absence of talismanic forward Ronaldo, who unsuccessfully appealed the suspension handed out for violent conduct during Real’s match against Athletic Bilbao earlier in February.
Against Elche – who are overachieving and lie 13th at the time of writing – you would not expect Ronaldo’s absence to pose too many problems.
But, while Madrid were comfortably the better side, they seemed to be missing a spark as well as Ronaldo. Against a better side they could come unstuck.
The hosts went ahead 11 minutes before the break, when Illarramendi struck a sweet half-volley from the edge of the box after a corner bounced into his path.
Elche, for their part, managed next to nothing, sitting deep and occasionally countering but lacking the quality to ever really test Diego Lopez.
The second half was initially a muted affair as Real sat back for some reason. Elche gained in confidence, keeping the ball well and occasionally trying to run it into the box, but they were unable to make Lopez do any more than the basics.
One such tentative attack did eventually lead to Madrid doubling their lead. An Elche move broke down and Madrid’s subsequent counter saw a touch of panic in the visitors’ box as Herrara was forced to punch away a poor chested back-pass.
Elche regrouped but, in the meanwhile, Bale had picked the ball up some way out, steadying himself before letting rip with a brilliant rising drive that flew into the top right.
That ended any hopes of an Elche comeback, and Real dominated the closing stages.
Isco rifled in a third off the near post after good work by Benzema, but they should have scored more. Dani Carvajal – starting in place of Sergio Ramos, who was mourning the death of his grandfather – missed an open goal from a yard out after a superb low cross by Isco.
Alvaro Morata also impressed from the bench, holding the ball up well, powering a header just wide and almost rounding Herrera to score.
Any more than 3-0 would have been an unrealistic gloss though, with Real knowing they will have to improve against Schalke on Wednesday.