The world’s most expensive player was handed a starting debut and made an immediate impact when he stabbed in a Daniel Carvajal pull back from inside the six-yard box.
Madrid paid £86 million to sign the Wales winger from Tottenham at the end of the summer’s transfer window, but the international break meant his debut was delayed.
Bale then only came off the bench in Wales’ two World Cup friendlies and after a limited preparation – he had been yet to start a competitive fixture this term – it was thought the 24-year-old might be eased in.
Carlo Ancelotti, however, opted to send him straight into action at El Madrigal as he started alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and former Spurs team-mate Luka Modric.
But Bale’s debut did not all go to plan as Villarreal took a 21st-minute lead through Ruben Cani before fighting back for a 2-2 draw. Bale, who had been a peripheral figure for the majority before his goal, outpaced his marker to score in Madrid’s famous white jersey for the first time, making it 1-1 at half-time.
Ronaldo had given Real the lead with a somewhat fortuitous strike in the 64th minute but Giovani dos Santos’s 70th minute strike gave Villarreal a deserved share of the points.
Alexis Sanchez scored in injury time to give Barcelona a 3-2 win over Sevilla as the Spanish champion maintained their 100 per cent record.
Barcelona appeared to have the win easily in hand after goals by Dani Alves and Lionel Messi, pictured, but two late goals from Ivan Rakitic in the 85th minute and Jorge “Coke” Andujar in the 90th put Sevilla on the cusp of a dramatic draw, only for Alexis to snatch a dramatic late winner.
Elsewhere, Atletico Madridalso continued their perfect record, beating Almeria 4-2 at home thanks to goals by David Villa, Diego Costa, Raul Garcia and Tiago Cardoso.
Real Sociedad, meanwhile, were held 0-0 at Levante. Both sides hit the crossbar in the second half, Carlos Vela first of all from six yards, before home midfielder Papakouli Diop curled a free-kick against the frame late on.