Among the winners for Continental Europe was captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who teamed with fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez for a 4-and-2 victory over Welshmen Stephen Dodd and Bradley Dredge.
'It was obviously a good day for us,' said Olazabal, who assumed captain duties for injured countryman and tournament namesake Seve Ballesteros.
Sweden's Niclas Fasth and Peter Hanson were 3-and-2 winners over David Howell and Paul Casey of England, while Thomas Bjorn of Denmark and Sweden's Henrik Stenson were 2-up winners over England's Ian Poulter and Nick Dougherty.
In the final match of the day at The Wynyard Golf Club, Jean-Francois Remesy rolled in an 8-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole to give Continental Europe its 4-1 lead.
Remesy and fellow Frenchman Thomas Levet needed the putt to defeat Ireland's Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington, 1-up.
'The last match I think made a big difference in the day,' Olazabal acknowledged. 'If it had gone the other way, it would have been 3-2 and the difference would have been very slim.'
The only win for GB&I came from captain Colin Montgomerie of Scotland and partner Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, who roughed-up Dutchman Maarten Lafeber and Italian Emanuel Canonica 4 and 2 in the day's second match.
'We've had a bit of a meeting. The doors were closed,' said Montgomerie. 'We will come out hopefully fighting and get as close as we can to the European total tomorrow night, and you know, we have to play better, simple as that.'
Already down 3-1, Montgomerie was looking on sternly as Harrington made a 24- foot birdie putt at 17 to tie the last match before losing out to Remesy's putt on 18.
'The last game, I believe it was vital,' said Montgomerie, echoing Olazabal's sentiment. 'It could have gone either way...but we're sitting here [down] 4-1.'
Montgomerie and McDowell were the second group out and the first to finish.
They took the lead for good at the par-5 first hole, where Montgomerie rolled in an 18-foot putt for eagle.
The group halved seven straight holes after that before McDowell's birdie at the ninth allowed the GB&I team to make the turn with a 2-up lead. Montgomerie then tapped-in for birdie at 10 and drained a long putt for birdie at 11 to give the duo a 4-up advantage.
Lafeber and Canonica trimmed that deficit in half with birdies at the 12th and 13th, but McDowell and Montgomerie sealed the match with birdies on 15 and 16.
Bjorn and Stenson clinched their point moments later when Bjorn made a birdie at the par-4 18th to even the day's score at 1-1.
And the rest of the day belonged to the Continental Europeans.
'The Europeans played well today as a team,' Montgomerie said. 'They did very, very well, so all credit to them. We have to get on with things tomorrow and improve on all aspects of our performance.'
Jimenez and Olazabal, who led their match from the start after consecutive birdies at the first and second hole, finally closed out their opponents with Jimenez's birdie at the par-five 16th.
Hanson and Fasth won their match with three straight Hanson birdies from the 14th after the GB&I team had squared things at No. 13. Hanson made his final birdie from the tall grass next to the fairway at 16, nearly holing out with his third shot before rolling in a short putt to make it 3-1.
Afterwards, neither captain changed their pairings for Friday's fourball matches, but the order was altered so that there would be no rematches from Thursday.
'I was confident at the start of the day with my pairings,' admitted Montgomerie. 'I still feel the same way. We didn't score enough and I have to believe that those pairings can score better tomorrow.'
After Friday's fourball matches, the weekend will feature morning greensomes and afternoon foursomes on Saturday and 10 singles matches on Sunday.
The Continental Europe team will be looking to reclaim the Seve Trophy from Great Britain and Ireland after consecutive losses in 2002 and 2003.
'We're going to be fired up,' Olazabal said. 'Nobody wants to be losing this. I think we made that very clear.'