Falcao got off the mark for the hosts but the Premier League champions suffered a rare defeat at Stamford Bridge, with the prospect of back-to-back titles already looking bleak
Jose Mourinho suffered only his second home defeat in the Premier League as Chelsea manager as Crystal Palace shocked the champions with a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge.
Bakary Sako put Palace in front, finishing off a Yannick Bolasie cross at the second time of asking after a block by Cesar Azpilicueta.
Chelsea looked to have snatched a point when second half substitute Falcao headed in a Pedro delivery.
But the Blues were level for less than two minutes as Ward headed in after more link-up play from Bolasie and Sako.
Aside from a Gary Cahill header, cleared off the line by Sako shortly before his opener, Chelsea struggled to break down the Palace defence, although Alex McCarthy had to be at his best to keep out Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas in the latter stages of the first half.
After Falcao restored parity, Palace refused to settle for a draw and Ward’s winner maintained Chelsea’s unconvincing start to the defence of their Premier League crown.
Cahill returned to the Chelsea starting XI in place of the suspended John Terry, while Crystal Palace brought Connor Wickham in for Glenn Murray up front, and the centre-back came under pressure early on as the visitors started brightly.
Chelsea eventually settled and Pedro came close to marking his home debut with a goal when he fired just wide with a curling effort after switching onto his left foot.
Kurt Zouma’s half-hearted appeal for a penalty following a tussle with Wickham went unrewarded, before Sako drew a diving save from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois at the other end.
Palace continued to enjoy the better chances – Yohan Cabaye missing a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock just short of the hour mark.
When the ball found Cabaye at the edge of the box, the France international had the whole goal to aim at but placed his effort too close to a grateful Courtois.
A superb double save from McCarthy, denying both Costa and Fabregas, kept Palace on level terms just before the break, and Damien Delaney made an excellent sliding tackle in the box to thwart Costa early in the second period.
Yet there was panic in the Chelsea penalty area when a cross from the right prompted a desperate scramble to clear the danger, before Wickham failed to get enough purchase on a Sako delivery.
As Palace continued to threaten, Sako went for goal in the 55th minute – Courtois getting down well to his right to keep out a 20-yard strike.
Sako then had to clear a Cahill header from a corner off the line but was on the scoresheet himself little more than a minute later, showing great composure in the box to lift the ball over Courtois after his initial effort had been blocked by Cesar Azpilicueta.
Yannick Bolasie curled over as Palace threatened to double their advantage 15 minutes from time, before Falcao lost his marker to head in from a Pedro cross and seemingly save Chelsea’s blushes.
However, a Bolasie cross from the left moments later found Sako in acres of space, and the Mali international cut the ball back for Ward to head home.
It was only Mourinho’s second defeat in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge in his 100th home game in charge of the club.