After an unconvincing start, Asier Illarramendi's deflected effort had given the hosts a half-time lead.

Bale then made the game safe 19 minutes from time when he collected possession midway inside the Elche half and blasted the ball in off the underside of the bar.

And Isco rounded off a 15th win in 16 games in all competitions for Real when he slammed home the third from Karim Benzema's pass nine minutes later.

Barcelona can regain top spot with a win away at Real Sociedad on Saturday, whilst Atletico Madrid will also be looking to keep pace with their city rivals when they travel to Osasuna on Sunday.

Madrid were once again without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo as he completed a three-game ban after having a final appeal rejected on Saturday morning.

With star performer in recent weeks, Luka Modric, also banned and Sergio Ramos rested as he was only one yellow card away from missing next weekend's Madrid derby away at Atletico, it took the hosts some time to find their stride.

Angel di Maria was the main threat early on as his in-swinging corner clipped the top of the bar before the Argentine fired over after drifting past three Elche challenges on the edge of the box.

Jese Rodriguez then slotted wide after more good work from Di Maria, but when the opener did come it was from an unfamiliar source as Illarramendi registered his first-ever La Liga goal.

A corner from the left fell to the Spanish under-21 international midfielder just outside the area and his low drive was deflected past the helpless Manu Herrera.

Benzema then had a low effort parried by Herrera as Carlo Ancelotti's men looked to make the game safe before half-time.

However, they started the second period slowly and Dani Carvajal had to be alert to prevent Carles Gil heading home at the back post before Javi Marquez fired wastefully over from the resulting corner.

Elche were lucky to not be reduced to 10 men just after the hour mark when Alberto Botia chopped down Jese as he burst clear on goal and could easily have been interpreted as denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Bale then headed just wide from Xabi Alonso's drilled cross.

However, the Welshman's moment was to come just moments later when he uncorked a pile-driver in off the underside of the bar from fully 35 yards for his 12th goal of the season.

Isco was then introduced for Jese and the former Malaga man needed just seven minutes to add his name to the scoresheet with a smart finish from a narrow angle.