As early as the first minute Torquay striker Lee Thorpe had an excellent opportunity to give his side a much needed boost but drilled his effort straight at Rochdale goalkeeper Matthew Gilks.
In a lively encounter Gulls' veteran Kevin Miller was busy himself denying Glenn Murray and 'man-of-the-match' Ben Muirhead, but was powerless on 19 minutes when Murray rose to head home an inch-perfect Muirhead cross.
Right at the end of the half home keeper Matt Gilks produced a flying save to keep out a long-range Lloyd Kerry effort and early in the second half produced a world-class save to keep out a Paul Smith header.
Perhaps the turning point of the game came on 65 minutes when Kerry turned provider, but with the goal at his mercy, Thorpe headed against the post when it was perhaps easier to score. And, incredibly from the rebound, substitute Matt Hockley somehow stabbed wide of an open net from just three yards.
Torquay's night of misery was completed four minutes into time added on when Murray cleverly jinked along the by-line only to be upended by Lee Mansell. From the resultant spot-kick fellow striker Adam Le Fondre calmly slotted the ball home to seal the points for Rochdale.