Back-to-back straight sets defeats in the Green Group by Taylor Fritz and Felix Auger-Aliassime meant the 22-time Grand slam champion missed out on the semi-finals.
But the Spaniard was clearly eager not to end a season that began in such spectacular fashion by succumbing to a fifth successive defeat — something the 36-year-old had not experienced since before his career took off in 2004-05.
With world number four Ruud already assured of a semi-final berth the match was in reality a dead rubber.
Even so the first set was full of intensity inside the Pala Alpitour where the afternoon crowd were firmly behind Nadal.
Nadal fought off a couple of break points at 4-4 in the opening set as Ruud threatened but after that the Mallorcan found the range on his forehand.
The 23-year-old Ruud went down 0-40 on serve at 5-6 and world number two Nadal needed just one chance to seal the set, punching away a volley into an empty court.
It was a similar story in the second set with nothing between the players until Nadal pounced again in the 12th game.
Ruud saved one match point but Nadal then clubbed away a backhand winner to finish his season on a high.
“I’ve been practising well but just not had enough matches to be at the level I need to be, not enough confidence after six tough months,” Nadal said on court.
“At least I finished with a positive victory which is important.”
Ruud will go on to the semi-finals but is now 0-8 against opponents ranked in the top three.
Later on Thursday debutants Auger-Aliassime and Fritz face off with a semi-final place at stake.