Bogeyman Frank Lampard's record-breaking exploits denied Villa the chance to complete their top-flight survival mission.
On an emotional afternoon at Villa Park - which saw the claret and blue family pay tribute to retiring club captain Stiliyan Petrov - the hosts seemed on course for at least a share of the spoils after taking the lead through Christian Benteke.
But Lampard - who has managed more goals against Villa than any other Premier League club - scored twice in the second half to settle a contest which saw both teams finish with 10 men.
The match-winning strikes also propelled Lampard to the top of Chelsea's all-time top goalscorers list.
Villa made one enforced change from last weekend's 2-1 success at Norwich City.
A thigh strain ended Matt Lowton's hopes of featuring in every Barclays Premier League game this season, meaning Eric Lichaj came in at right-back.
Lambert's men produced some neat passages of play during a cagey opening period but Andi Weimann and Yacouba Sylla both opted to lay off to team-mates when in promising positions rather than go for goal.
The home side's ability to swiftly turn defence in to attack prevailed on 14 minutes when Benteke struck the opener.
After latching on to an incisive pass from Sylla in the left channel, the Belgian showed former Villa defender Gary Cahill a clean pair of heels before slotting a left-foot shot past Petr Cech at the near post.
There was little sign of the carnival atmosphere dying down and the home fans were almost out of their seats again moments later when Fabian Delph's 25-yard effort missed the target by inches.
Then came the moment everyone inside Villa Park had been anticipating.
The clock struck 19 minutes and the stadium rose as one to salute inspirational Petrov.
What followed was an even greater cheer as the retiring skipper appeared on the giant screens to acknowledge the claret and blue faithful.
As those in attendance came to terms with those emotional scenes, Chelsea began to move through the gears.
Thankfully, Brad Guzan was on hand to justify his double Player of the Year tag, rushing out to thwart Demba Ba with a brave block.
The American keeper also made a stunning double save, firstly diving to his left to tip Lampard's powerfully-struck free-kick on to the post before scrambling across his goal to block the follow-up from Juan Mata.
Already a goal up, Villa went in at the break a man up after Ramires was shown a second yellow card for a dangerous challenge on Gabby Agbonlahor.
Rafael Benitez introduced David Luiz for Victor Moses at the break in attempt to reverse the away team's fortunes.
Initially, at least, the change failed to stop Villa continuing in the same vein.
Cahill made a last-ditch sliding block to deny Agbonlahor after a rampaging run from the Erdington-born forward, while Sylla, Agbonlahor and Joe Bennett all miscued with efforts from just inside the box.
However, a contest already packed full of incident took another turn on 58 minutes. Benteke - already booked earlier for a foul on Cesar Azpilicueta - caught Chelsea skipper John Terry with a high boot and left referee Lee Mason with little option but to produce a second yellow and subsequent red.
Lampard seized the initiative. He levelled the scores on 61 minutes with a left-foot rising drive which left Guzan with no chance.
No sign of the drama ending there, though.
Cahill looked to have delivered a hammer blow to his old club on 72 minutes, only to see his shot blocked by the legs of Sylla on the line.
Ba reacted quickly to try and forced home the rebound but Westwood somehow kept it out.
Typically, it was Lampard who had the final say three minutes from time.
Eden Hazard slid a pass across the six-yard box, allowing Lampard to convert a late winner.
VILLA: Guzan, Lichaj, Vlaar [c], Baker, Bennett, Westwood, Delph, Sylla, Weimann, Agbonlahor, Benteke. Subs: Given, Holman, Williams, Gardner, Bent, Bowery, N'Zogbia, Bannan.
CHELSEA: Cech, Cole, Cahill, Terry [c], Azpilicueta, Ramires, Lampard, Moses, Mata, Hazard, Ba. Subs: Turnbull, Ivanovic [for Terry, 76], Luiz [for Moses, HT], Torres [for Ba, 87], Oscar, Benayoun, Ake.