The visitors made an ideal start when taking an early lead. Darlington failed to clear a corner and Morike Sako fired in from the edge of the area with a low right-foot drive.
Darlington went down to 10 men in the 13th minute when defender Craig James was shown a straight red card after a two footed challenge on Gary Brown. Immediately afterwards winger Neil Wainwright was sacrificed and replaced by defender David Duke.
With Darlington all over the place it was no surprise when Rochdale increased their lead in the 19th minute through defender Alan Goodall. A flowing move ended with a 25-yard drive from Goodall that looped over Quakers keeper Sam Russell and into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
Rochdale could have been forgiven for sitting back on their advantage, but they were having none of it as Chris Dagnall fired narrowly wide in the 24th minute and then Lee Crooks saw his 20-yard drive knocked away by keeper Russell.
In the 34th minute the hosts crumbled again when Dale broke down the right after Martin Smith had lost the ball. When Sako picked up possession and cut inside Russell could do nothing to prevent the striker's low shot finding the net.
Once again the visitors continued to press forward and went close through Goodall on 36 and then a scissor kick from Sako went wide a minute from the break.
Rochdale went four-up in stoppage time when Keith Barker sent Dagnall clear inside the area and his 12-yard shot beat Russell's despairing dive.
Darlington brought on striker Simon Johnson at the start of the second half and also introduced Carlos Logan later.
However the changes failed to lift the hosts and Rochdale went five-up nine minutes from time when sub Clive Moyo-Modise latched onto Ernie Cooksey's through ball to fire past Russell and into the bottom corner from close range.