Striker Howe showed nerves of steel to beat goalkeeper Chris Lewington from the spot after Luke Wilkinson was penalised for a foul on Lloyd Macklin.
Alan Knill's side faced an uphill task when defender Aaron Downes was sent-off after just three minutes for a foul on Abu Ogogo, leaving Medy Elito to rifle the resulting spot-kick into the roof of the net.
On-loan Notts County midfielder Joss Labadie grabbed his first Torquay goal with 19 minutes remaining, latching on to Brian Saah's header down from Lee Mansell's corner,
Josh Scott bundled home from close range for his fifth goal in seven games to put the hosts ahead again with five minutes to play.
But there was still time for Howe to bag his 15th goal of the season and a first in seven games.