In a game both sides needed to win to retain any real hope of reaching the last-four, Gayle was at his swashbuckling best smashing seven sixes and five fours before he was unluckily run out in the final over.
The left-hander, who was dropped on 46 following a calamitous mix-up between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan, put on 80 with fellow opener Shivnarine Chanderpaul (23) to form the basis of a competitive 169 for six.
A conservative Indian chase, however, never threatened the target and the steady flow of wickets meant a late surge never arrived as they finished on 155 for nine.
India were behind the rate from the outset as their top three all struggled to operate at a run a ball.
Murali Vijay (seven off 14 balls), Gautam Gambhir (15 off 14 balls) and Rohit Sharma (five off eight balls) failed to find their timing – putting Gayle’s earlier fireworks into perspective.
When Suresh Raina (32) briefly threatened, following a towering six off Kieron Pollard with back-to-back fours, Gayle introduced himself and immediately had him caught by Darren Sammy at mid-wicket.
India were soon 81 for five when Yuvraj Singh’s (12) poor tournament continued and the game was beyond them when Dhoni (29) was brilliantly run out by Dwayne Bravo – which served to underline an impressive fielding display by the hosts.
India had let themselves in the field after the match was delayed by 30 minutes due to a wet outfield.
Dhoni won the toss and, sensing some early assistance in the wicket for his bowlers elected to field, but any advantage was lost by some sloppy fielding.
Ravindra Jadeja failed to hold onto a running chance when Chanderpaul when he was on 12, but the key miss arrived when Dhoni and Pathan crashed into each other after Gayle skied a high catch on 46.
The left-hander made them pay in a 66-ball stay that was highlighted of his innings a massive six off Pathan that landed on the roof of the stand behind the bowler.
He looked set for a well-deserved century until he suffered a poor slice of luck to be run out with two balls remaining.
Diving to make a second run Gayle‘s bat momentarily jumped off the turf at the same time Dhoni broke the stumps.
Victory for West Indies moved them level on two points with Australia and Sri Lanka, who play later today. If Sri Lanka win that match India will be eliminated.
Gayle had managed just 30 runs in the tournament before today and admitted it was a relief to lead his team to a win that keeps them in the mix for the semi-finals.
“It was a good victory, this is what we wanted,” he said.
“I must compliment the guys today for the way they went about it and I’m happy with the result today.
“Personally I was under a bit of pressure. And from a team point of view too, we knew we had to play good positive cricket.
“There’s one more game to go and hopefully we can make the semi-finals.”
India had been one of the pre-tournament favourites, but Dhoni is now resigned to missing out on the last four, and blamed his batsmen for their below-par performances.
“In this tournament the batting hasn’t been up to expectation,” he said.
“The bowlers have been decent. We always talk about the batting being our strength but in this tournament that has not really paid off.
“We still have one game left which is our consolation prize. There’s one more game before we leave home for India. So we hope to give our best in that game.”
West Indies: Chris Gayle (C), Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy, Wavell Hinds, Denesh Ramdin (W), Jerome Taylor, Sulieman Benn, Kemar Roach
India: Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni (C) (W), Yusuf Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra