The former Chelsea striker rose highest to nod in his 10th goal of the season, with 38 minutes gone for the Champions League semi-finalists, who remain in second after the Catalan giants thrashed Deportivo 8-0 in the earlier kick-off.
Diego Simeone’s men had chances to extend their lead, but it was ultimately the Spaniard’s effort which proved to be the difference on the night.
It was a eighth win in nine matches for Atletico, as they continue their strong end-of-season push to regain the trophy they won in 2014.
There was an early blow for Madrid, when their Uruguayan defender Diego Godin limped off with what looked to be a hamstring injury after only 11 minutes.
With neither side willing to exert themselves too much, given that both have so much on the line, it was fifth-placed Athletic who had the first effort of the evening, when Iker Muniain’s speculative 25-yard attempt was easily saved by Jan Oblak.
As the away side began to grow into the game, their pressure soon paid off, when Antoine Griezmann’s brilliant chipped cross found its way into the box and onto the head of Torres, who accurately buried into the corner past Gorka Iraizoz.
It was the 32-year-old’s fifth goal in his last five games, the first time he has scored in more than three consecutive matches since March 2010, and the first time in his career he has scored in five consecutive matches.
Since returning to his boyhood club back in January 2015, Torres’ homecoming was seen as something of a nostalgic trip down memory lane, a fairytale designed to give the forward a memorable end to wind down his career.
But it appears he has decided there is still life in him yet, and has now become an integral part of the side, rather than a sympathy act, still to recover from his torrid time in the Premier League with Chelsea, following his switch from Liverpool in January 2011.
Stefan Savic came close to extending the lead early in the second-half, but his header was just off target from Koke’s corner.
On came Inaki Williams as Athletic looked to salvage something from the clash, but it was Frenchman Griezmann who went the closest, before Eneko Boveda nipped in to deny him, when clean through for what would have been his 21st goal of the season.