Numbers of Spaniards registered as jobless jumped towards four million in December, closing the year at a more than four-year high as a brutal economic contraction induced by the coronavirus crippled tourism and other labour-intensive industries.
Tuesday's labour ministry reading of 3.89 million marked a 22% rise year on year, and excluded some 755,000 workers on a state-supported furlough scheme.
Chronically high unemployment plagued Spain's economy in the years either side of the 2008/9 global financial crisis, but the December jobless figure had fallen every year since 2013.
Joaquin Perez Rey, the secretary of state for employment, described the data as bad but also "full of anomalies".
He said it should return during 2021 to "numbers similar to what we had before the pandemic", provided the global spread of the coronavirus did not worsen.
Perez Rey estimated the unemployment rate, which ended 2019 at 13.8%, stood below 16% at the end of last year. During the financial crisis it peaked close to 27%.
Spain's economy slumped a record 17.9% between April and June last year and central bank expects a double-digit contraction in 2020 as a whole.