With the title already secured by Manchester United and relegation matters settled in midweek, the settling of European issues was the main focus of the day.
A 1-0 win for Arsenal at St James' Park saw Arsene Wenger continue his proud record of Champions League qualification in every season at the club.
Tottenham did ensure a nailbiting finale when the irrepressible Bale secured a 1-0 win over Sunderland with a glorious 25-yard strike in the closing seconds.
A Newcastle equaliser in the final seconds against Arsenal would have seen Spurs leapfrog their rivals into fourth but it never materialised.
Chelsea, who started the day with the chance of a play-off with the Gunners for third place, avoided that fate with a 2-1 home win over Everton.
On a day where 36 goals were scored in the top flight, Sir Alex Ferguson saw 10 of them in his final game before retirement as champions Manchester United drew 5-5 in a breathless encounter with West Brom.
Arsenal fought out a first-half stalemate against Newcastle but grabbed the all-important winning goal in the 52nd minute when Laurent Koscielny hooked home from close range following a free-kick from the right.
Tottenham saw strong penalty appeals turned down, shots cleared off the line and woodwork rattled before Bale - who had earlier been booked for diving when he looked to have been fouled in the area - curled in a sensational winner following Sunderland midfielder David Vaughan's red card.
Yet it was not enough and they now go into the Europa League.
Chelsea confirmed third place in Rafael Benitez's last game in charge when his fellow Spaniards Juan Mata and Fernando Torres scored either side of Toffees midfielder Steven Naismith.
Ferguson, meanwhile, can rarely have seen a game in his 26 years at United like the one that unfolded at The Hawthorns.
Shinji Kagawa, Alex Buttner and a Jonas Olsson own-goal put United 3-0 up after half an hour, while Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez also hit the target on Ferguson's big day.
But a Romelu Lukaku hat-trick teamed with efforts from James Morrison and Youssouf Mulumbu ensured the Baggies a share of the spoils.
Three of West Brom's goals came in a frantic last 10 minutes.
1 Man Utd 89
2 Man City 78
3 Chelsea 75
4 Arsenal 73
5 Tottenham 72
6 Everton 63
7 Liverpool 61
8 West Brom 49
9 Swansea 46
10 West Ham 46
11 Norwich 44
12 Fulham 43
13 Stoke City 42
14 Southampton 41
15 A Villa 41
16 Newcastle 41
17 Sunderland 39
18 Wigan 36
19 Reading 28
20 QPR 25
Jamie Carragher's final match for Liverpool before retirement ended in a 1-0 win over QPR, who finish bottom of the table.
Philippe Coutinho grabbed the winner with a fine 23rd-minute strike but Carragher, goalless since 2006, almost grabbed the spotlight when he hit the woodwork in the second half.
Carragher's former Liverpool and England team-mate Michael Owen also played the last match of his storied career but a 16-minute cameo in Stoke's 1-1 draw at Southampton was not one to remember.
Peter Crouch gave the Potters the lead two minutes into the second half and Rickie Lambert levelled 10 minutes later for the Saints.
Managerless Manchester City ended the season with a 3-2 home defeat to Norwich.
Jack Rodwell equalised twice for City but goals from Anthony Pilkington, Grant Holt and Jonny Howson won it for the Canaries.
West Ham beat the Canaries to a top-half finish with a 4-2 win over relegated Reading.
Kevin Nolan scored a hat-trick and Ricardo Vaz Te also netted, while Garath McCleary and Adam Le Fondre ensured the Royals did not go down without a fight.
FA Cup winners Wigan are also bound for the npower Championship but they added one final point to their tally with a 2-2 draw against Aston Villa.
Darren Bent, on a rare start, had put Villa ahead before Emmerson Boyce's header and a Nathan Baker own-goal gave the Latics a sniff of victory.
Ron Vlaar snuffed out those hopes in the 61st minute.
Fulham shook off some questionable form to inflict a 3-0 defeat on Swansea, Alex Kacaniklic, Dimitar Berbatov and Urby Emmanuelson on the scoresheet for the Cottagers.