Damian Suarez gave Fran Escriba's side the lead from the penalty spot on the half-hour mark but Jonathan Pereira levelled on the stroke of half-time as the spoils were shared at El Madrigal.
Although the hosts were the better side, they were unable to make their superiority count, and, like their opponents, failed to take advantage of slip ups by the teams nearest to them in the table.
The result means Elche are just two points above the drop zone, while Villarreal remain in seventh, passing up an opportunity to climb up to fifth.
Jeremy Perbet should have put the hosts ahead with just two minutes played, somehow missing the target from inside the area as he got on the end of a cross from Cani from the left-hand side.
And the Frenchman squandered a similar opportunity in the 18th minute, this time sending another cross from Cani over the bar.
Elche had taken their usual cautious approach to the game but took the lead with their first shot on target, Suarez coolly slotting into the bottom corner from the spot after Perbet had added to his earlier misses by giving away a penalty, somewhat harshly penalised for tumbling with Alberto Botia in the area.
But the visitors were unable to build on their lead and lost it just before half-time, Moi Gomez sending a chipped pass towards Pereira, who converted with an unorthodox finish.
Villarreal thought they should have been awarded a penalty of their own just a couple of minutes into the second half when Cani was felled, but this time referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco could not be convinced.
Veteran midfielder Cani came close to scoring a fine individual goal less than 10 minutes later, racing through the middle of two defenders to catch a sight of goal, but sent the ball just beyond the far post.
Jaume Costa had the next chance for Marcelino's side, hitting a powerful effort straight at Elche goalkeeper Manu Herrera, while at the other end Villarreal stopper Sergio Asenjo struggled to hold a shot from Carles Gil, but eventually gathered to clear the danger, bringing a rare Elche attack to an end.