After her commissioning Balch operated for a period under the Chief of Naval Operations. She departed Newport R. I., for the Pacific in October 1937 and, upon arrival at San Diego she joined Destroyer Division 7, Battle Force. Thereafter as flagship of Destroyer Squadron 12, and later of Destroyer Squadron 6, she participated in fleet training, cruises, and battle problems in the Pacific and Haitian-Caribbean area. After participating in Fleet Problem XXI at Pearl Harbor, Balch steamed to Mare Island Navy Yard where she underwent a yard period in the spring of 1940. Upon the completion of her yard period she made six cruises alternately between the Hawaiian Islands and the west coast (August 1941–December 1941).
On 1 December 1941, Balch with her entire squadron (see table) departed Pearl Harbor with Enterprise’s Task Force 8 (also including heavy cruisers Northampton, Chester and Salt Lake City) to ferry planes to Wake Island. On 7 December, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the task force had returned to about 200 miles west of Oahu. Escaping detection by the Japanese, it entered harbor the next day.
Balch cruised in the Pacific during the early months of the war and participated in the bombardment of Taroa Island, Marshall Islands (1 February 1942). Between February 1942 and June 1944 Balch performed widespread screening, patrolling, and fire support duties during the Wake Island raid (24 February 1942); the decisive Battle of Midway (4–7 June), during which she rescued 545 survivors of Yorktown (CV 5); Guadalcanal landings (7–30 August); Attu invasion (11 May–2 June 1943; Toem-Wakde-Sarmi landings (25–28 May 1944); and Biak Island invasion (28 May–18 June).
On 15 July 1944, Balch arrived at New York. Between 2 August 1944 and 23 May 1945 she completed five trans-Atlantic convoy escort crossings to various North African ports. On 16 June 1945 she commenced her pre-inactivation overhaul at Philadelphia; was decommissioned 19 October 1945 and scrapped in 1946.
Balch received six battle stars for her Pacific service during World War II.