Rochdale manager Keith Hill finally conjured the first win of his second spell in charge, at the fourth attempt, thanks to an early Rhys Bennett goal.
The right-back tucked home a rebound after goalkeeper Michael Poke had saved his initial shot.
Top scorer Rene Howe missed an early chance for the Gulls and Billy Bodin fired another effort over the bar.
It was Torquay's fourth straight defeat and fifth game without manager Martin Ling, who is absent with an illness.
VIEWS FROM THE DRESSING ROOM
Rochdale manager Keith Hill told BBC Radio Manchester:
"It's the 99th league win of my career and I can't wait to get to 100.
"I'm really pleased with the response from the players. We turned a week's work into a positive result today.
"There's a lot to work on - let's not be naive about this - but the players want to learn, improve and be successful."
Torquay United's caretaker manager Shaun Taylor told BBC Devon:
"I told the players I can't fault their effort and endeavour. We're disappointed with the goal we conceded - it was poor collectively as a team.
"They got the goal and we were fighting for the rest of the game really.
"They're battle wounded but have got to go again on Tuesday."
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