Barkley, who last hosted the show in 1993 alongside musical guest Nirvana, had bit parts in "SNL" sketches new and old in Saturday's episode, the last since James Franco's December gig ended the 2009 "SNL" season.
Perhaps Barkley's funniest turn was as Keys herself, as the 6'5" former NBA player donned a curly wig and tight dress to play the sultry chart-topper during a sketch that aired before the show, during NBC coverage of the NFL playoff game.
Barkley took a turn poking fun at himself, starring in a skit about getting professional help to fix his golf swing and joking about getting "arrested," a nod to his Jan. 2009 drunk-driving bust. The ex-NBA star also quipped about the league's infamous womanizers, saying as he hit on an audience member: "I been in the NBA a long time, I know a freaky white girl when I see one."
Barkley also joined "SNL" vets in several show mainstays, playing second banana to Kenan Thompson's trash-talking prison interrogator in "Scared Straight" as he wore a Don King-style gray wig and polyester uniform and joining Kristen Wiig in the "Shanna at the Ski Lodge" sketch.
An unexplained glitch in the last sketch of the evening saw "SNL" cut off Barkley during a bit about a bumbling banker, then return reception to viewers as the two-time host finished his wrap-up speech and thanked the audience.
Keys, who hosted in 2001 with actress Reese Witherspoon, also took her turn on the "SNL" comedy circuit, joining Andy Samberg in the "Booty Call" digital short that saw Keys seduce the flamboyant, socially awkward Samberg over the phone.
The Grammy winner played two songs during the performance, including a version of her hit with rapper Jay-Z, "Empire State of Mind," in a nod to the show's New York roots.
Next Saturday's episode will feature "Avatar" star and "SNL" hosting alum Sigourney Weaver and first-time musical guest the Ting Tings.