Defeat would have left Real eight points off their rivals with 13 games remaining but Benzema buried a late strike to salvage a draw and keep the deficit to five points.
Luis Suarez struck for the home side in the first half and Diego Simeone’s men looked set to take a giant stride towards winning their first title since 2014, but Zinedine Zidane’s men had other ideas.
Suarez opened the scoring after 15 minutes in a crucial clash at the Wanda Metropolitano, with a fine effort using the outside of his boot, following good work from Marcos Llorente. The goal ended a five-game goal drought and marked Suarez’s 498th for club and country in his career.
Zidane’s side went into the match five points behind Atletico, who also have a game in hand, and the Madrid coach said the title race would not be decided by events on Sunday.
Real Madrid, second best for most of the first 45 minutes, called for a penalty late in the first half after Felipe appeared to handle in the area but following a VAR review, nothing was given.
The home side continued to force the issue in the second half, with Llorente and Yannick Carrasco both going close, while Suarez also called Thibaut Courtois into action in the visiting goal.
Benzema squandered a glorious opportunity to equalise 10 minutes from time but his effort was turned behind by Jan Oblak. The striker made amends, though, eight minutes later when he met Casemiro’s pass to level it.
Barcelona are three points behind Atletico Madrid following Sunday’s derby, and Simeone’s side have a game in hand on them.