Harden, who had missed three games with a strained left hamstring, scored 11 straight points in a 1:59 span of the third as the Rockets went on a 15-0 run.
Carmelo Anthony had 17 points and James Ennis added 15 as the Rockets won their second game in two nights after starting the season 1-5.
Chicago led 59-58 midway through the third quarter before the Rockets and Harden went ahead for good, outscoring the Bulls 21-7 in the period.
Zach LaVine led Chicago with 21 points, and Wendell Carter Jr. had 14 points and 13 rebounds. Jabari Parker added 15 points as the Bulls lost their fourth straight game — going 0-4 in the homestand — and dropped their fifth straight to the Rockets.
Houston opened a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter. Chicago narrowed it to five points with 4:01 left using a 12-2 run and capitalizing on a stretch of cold shooting by Houston.
Harden, the NBA’s reigning MVP, started slowly in his return to the starting lineup. He didn’t score until completing a driving layup with 3:55 left in the second quarter. Then he hit back-to-back 3s and had 10 points at the half.
Harden had seven assists in the second quarter. He also had eight turnovers.
Harden suffered the hamstring injury near the end of the loss to Utah on Oct. 24, and Houston was routed in the next two games. The Rockets beat the Nets in Brooklyn 119-111 on Friday as Harden got an extra day of rest.
Guard Eric Gordon was held out of Saturday’s game with an abductor strain suffered at Brooklyn.
The Bulls held their own with the Rockets in a seesaw first half and led 56-54. Neither team had more than a five-point lead in the half.
Ennis, in his second game back after missing three with a strained right hamstring, led all scorers with 13 points at the half. Jabari Parker had 11 for Chicago.
Rockets: Before the game, coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t have details of Gordon’s injury but thought the guard, who has averaged 15 points through seven games, would be day-to-day. “Now we get James back, but we lose Eric,” D’Antoni said, while noting that injuries to top players have taxed other Rockets who aren’t used to as much playing time. … D’Antoni’s voice was raspy and barely audible before Saturday’s game. He attributed it to his team pulling out its second win of the season at Brooklyn on Friday. “I celebrated last night and lost my voice,” D’Antoni said. “We won a game.”
Bulls: Coach Fred Hoiberg expects his injury-depleted team will soon get a boost from the return of F Lauri Markkanen (right elbow sprain) and G Denzel Valentine (left ankle sprain), but still doesn’t have an exact timetable. “Denzel will continue to ramp up his activity in the next couple days, and Lauri is doing a little bit more still,” Hoiberg said, adding that Markkanen might be ready to “get on floor” in about a week. … Hoiberg said Bobby Portis (right knee sprain) and Kris Dunn (left knee sprain) “are still a ways away.”
Rockets: At Indiana on Monday in the third game of a five-game trip.
Bulls: At the New York Knicks on Monday.