With the focus on Benzema, it was Thibaut Courtois who starred in the first half, saving Mikel Vesga's 10th-minute penalty kick before tipping Yuri Berchiche's shot over the bar. The home side's best chance fell to Rodrygo Goes, denied as he tried to dribble around goalkeeper Unai Simon.
Oihan Sancet put Athletic ahead after the break -- after Courtois had kept out his initial effort -- and Benzema leveled from the penalty spot in the 72nd minute, before being substituted to a standing ovation.
1. Benzema scores in Bernabeu farewell
Real Madrid's confirmation -- which came at 11:53 a.m. local time, just under seven hours before kickoff -- that Benzema would be leaving the club this summer meant that there was only one name on the lips of those who filled the Santiago Bernabeu for this last game of the LaLiga season. There was a huge cheer when Benzema's name was read out over the stadium speakers before kickoff, and with the fans desperate to see him score one more time, there was excitement whenever the forward got anywhere near the ball in a dangerous position. But that didn't happen too often.
Benzema is unquestionably one of the greatest players in Real Madrid's history. Only one player -- Cristiano Ronaldo -- has scored more than his 354 goals. No player has won more than his 25 trophies. And of course, we're talking about the reigning Ballon d'Or winner. It's also true that this has been an underwhelming season, given the levels he reached last year.
This performance was representative of how he's played, close to what he was, but not quite there. Still, though, the goals have come. His penalty here made it 19 in LaLiga this season, and meant that when he was taken off, there were no regrets, just the applause of a crowd who knew they'd witnessed a historic moment.
2. Questions abound ahead of a busy summer
Benzema's future is now clear, but there are still plenty of doubts about this Real Madrid squad ahead of next season. The club have confirmed that Marco Asensio, Eden Hazard and Mariano Diaz will depart, but there's been nothing official yet on midfielder Dani Ceballos or defender Nacho Fernandez.
Ceballos and Nacho both started here, Nacho in his preferred position at centre-back, while Asensio was introduced -- for Ceballos -- as a 58th-minute substitute, before being withdrawn himself late on. Nacho looked assured at the back, as he always does. Coach Carlo Ancelotti would love him to stay, but only 18 starts in LaLiga haven't yet persuaded the player that he should.
As for Ceballos, his form since Christmas convinced the club to offer him a new contract, but this performance was a reminder of a player who frustrates as often as he impresses. And there are more doubts too, at full-back and elsewhere in midfield. Dani Carvajal needs competition on the right, while Aurelien Tchouameni starting another game on the bench was illustrative of his reduced importance since the World Cup.
3. Courtois is now Madrid's main man
With Benzema departing, Madrid will need new leaders to step up in his absence. Courtois made a convincing argument here -- as he has all season -- that he might just now be the most important player in this Real Madrid team. Courtois' penalty save in the 10th minute was impressive, guessing the right way to save Vesga's kick -- albeit it came to him at a good height -- and his first-half stop from Berchiche was even better.
Time and time again this season, Courtois has made at least one crucial save per game. Whatever question marks there are about every other area of the team -- and they exist in defence, midfield, and attack -- Madrid have nothing to worry about in goal. Aged 31, Courtois has them covered for years to come.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Thibaut Courtois, Real Madrid
Made an outstanding penalty save and three more good stops.
BEST: Oihan Sancet, Athletic Club
Took his goal well, keeping his cool after Courtois kept out his first shot.
BEST: Nico Williams, Athletic Club
Looked dangerous every time he got on the ball.
WORST: Dani Ceballos, Real Madrid
Made little impression in midfield.
WORST: Mikel Vesga, Athletic Club
Spurned the chance to put Athletic ahead early from the penalty spot.
WORST: Dani Carvajal, Real Madrid
Looked out of sorts again. Madrid could do with looking at right-backs this summer.
Highlights and notable moments
Benzema leaves Real Madrid a club legend.
Historic resume for Karim Benzema 👑 pic.twitter.com/q7L3xEBRRi— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 4, 2023
And before being subbed off, Benzema nets a goal on his farewell to Madrid.
BENZEMA SCORES IN HIS FAREWELL MATCH!— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 4, 2023
LEGEND 👑 pic.twitter.com/0k2HJLTgxi
After the match: What the managers and players said
Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti on Benzema: "One of the best players in the world, one of the best on the planet. A complete footballer, a very nice, humble, serious person. We can't be happy, but we have to respect his decision, he's earned the right. We all have to thank him. What he's done for this club is legendary, unforgettable, it will be in this club's history forever."
Ancelotti on who can replace Benzema: "It's obvious that today we say goodbye to four forwards -- Mariano, Asensio, Hazard and Karim -- we have to do something there, but there's no hurry, we have time to do it calmly."
Ancelotti on Madrid's lack of forwards: "Right now I'm not worried, we have a lot of time. I believe that you win games with forwards, and without forwards too. Forwards are more likely to score goals, that's obvious, but it makes the difference when a team plays as a team, compact, with a good attitude and commitment."
Courtois on what Madrid lacked this season: "As we saw today, we lacked the clarity to score more goals, and we gave away a goal at the back. We'll be better next season."
Courtois on Benzema: "It's been a pleasure to play with him. He's an excellent player. It's a shame, but we understand it. He's a legend and he deserves to choose. I wish him the best."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Thibaut Courtois: 1st save in 4 PK shots faced in LaLiga this season. He becomes the 13th different GK to save a PK shot this season
Oihan Sancet: Youngest Athletic player (23 years) to score at the Bernabeu in LaLiga since Inaki Williams in 2018.
Karim Benzema scores his 18th career LaLiga goal vs Athletic Club -- the most by any player since he joined the league in 2009-10. Ronaldo has 17, Messi has 16 during span.
Karim Benzema leaves Real Madrid scoring at a rate of a goal every 108 minutes this season in LaLiga, the fourth-best rate of his career for the club, and the best in LaLiga this season (min. 10 goals)
Real Madrid: With the 2022-23 LaLiga season finished, Los Blancos will kick off their summer friendlies against AC Milan on July 23.
Athletic Club: Playing Celtic in a friendly on August 1.