Real reclaim top spot at Getafe
Champions Barca ground out a laboured 2-0 home victory over Osasuna to go three points clear and Real reclaimed the lead thanks to a superior goal difference over their arch-rivals, whom they host in just over two weeks.
Injury had deprived coach Manuel Pellegrini of two of Real's most expensive purchases, Brazil playmaker Kaka and France striker Karim Benzema, and it was record signing Ronaldo who fired them ahead with a trademark free kick.
The Portuguese's mastery of the deadball could be a potent weapon at this year's World Cup and Getafe goalkeeper Oskar Ustari was powerless to prevent his 13th-minute strike from the edge of the penalty area arrowing into the top corner.
Ronaldo almost doubled the visitors' lead five minutes later when he cut in from the left but Ustari tipped his fierce long-range drive over the bar.
Two clinical finishes from the in-form Higuain put Real three ahead inside 23 minutes, the Argentina international's 21st and 22nd league goals of the season.
He ran on to a Rafael van der Vaart pass in the 20th and beat Ustari with a low shot before rounding the keeper and side-footing into an empty net after smart work from Fernando Gago.
Ronaldo made it four for a rampant Real in the 37th, dancing in from the right wing and smashing an angled shot into the roof of the net.
Daniel Parejo pulled a goal back a minute later when Real keeper Iker Casillas raced out of his area to clear. The Getafe midfielder robbed him of the ball before netting through a crowd of defenders into the empty net.
Spain captain Casillas was furious with the referee for not penalising Parejo's challenge and needed lengthy treatment on his left ankle before seeing out the match.
Real comfortably controlled a much less frantic second half, although Casillas was beaten again in the 80th when Pedro Leon pounced on a loose ball and finished from close range.
Getafe's miserable night took a turn for the worse in added time when coach Michel, a former Real player, was dismissed from the bench for protesting a decision.
It was Real's 10th consecutive La Liga victory and they set a new club record of scoring three or more goals in nine straight matches, beating a mark from the 1951-52 season.
"The important thing was the victory," Higuain said in a television interview.
"I'm very happy but on Sunday we have another very important match that we have to win."
Real host Atletico Madrid, who entertain Athletic Bilbao in Thursday's late kickoff, at the Bernabeu on Sunday.
Real and Barca are 18 points clear of third-placed Valencia, who beat Malaga 1-0 on Wednesday to move to 53, and Real Mallorca are six behind Valencia in fourth.