Profit rose 0.2 per cent to Rs 5,511 crore, or Rs 17.10 a share, in the October-December quarter from Rs 5,502 crore, or Rs 17 a share, a year earlier, RIL said in a statement.
The markets expected profit to range between Rs 5,310 and Rs 5,350 crore. Earnings were also higher than the Rs 5,490 crore posted in the second quarter.
Sales rose 10.5 per cent to Rs 106,383 crore.
While natural gas production at its main Krishna Godavari field continued to slump and refining margins dropped, the company's income from other than its main operations rose 32 per cent to Rs 2,305 crore in October-December from Rs 1,740 crore a year earlier.
RIL, which operates two adjacent refineries at Jamnagar in Gujarat, said it earned USD 7.6 on turning every barrel of crude oil into fuel compared with a gross refining margin of USD 9.6 per barrel in Q3 of the previous fiscal.
The margins were better than the Singapore average even though earnings before interest and taxes from the refining business was down 13.1 per cent as it processed less crude oil due to a maintenance shutdown at one of the plants.
Debt soared to Rs 81,330 crore at the end of Q3 from Rs 72,427 crore at the beginning of the financial year. At quarter end, it had a cash pile of Rs 88,705 crore, making the company debt-free on a net basis.
RIL Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani said the company has commissioned a new polyester facility in Silvassa, the first among the USD 12 billion worth of projects it had undertaken to expand in the core business of petrochemicals and oil and gas.
Before the earnings announcement, RIL shares dipped 0.07 per cent to Rs 884.55 at close on the BSE.
"Our retail business continues on its rapid growth trajectory with 38 per cent revenue growth during the quarter," Ambani said.
Also, RIL's robust refining configuration enabled it to deliver stable refining profits in the quarter, against a backdrop of declining regional benchmark margins, he said.
"Even as we invest to further strengthen our energy businesses, this quarter demonstrates the outstanding quality of our refining and petrochemical business resources and their ability to deliver creditable performance in a period marked by cyclicality and uncertainties," he added.
With production at the KG-D6 block dropping 10 per cent in Q3, RIL said oil and gas segment revenue dropped almost 10 per cent to Rs 1,733 crore and the segment's earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) by 8.5 per cent to Rs 540 crore.
The 13.1 per cent slip in the refining segment EBIT to Rs 3,141 crore was partly offset by a 9.7 per cent jump in its EBIT from the petrochemical business to Rs 2,124 crore.
RIL said revenue from the retail business soared 38 per cent to Rs 3,927 crore, aided by increased shopping during the festive season.
Reliance Retail operated 1,577 stores across 141 cities as of December 31.
"Echoing consumer sentiments, Reliance Retail discontinued its non-vegetarian food retail format, `Delight, during the quarter," the statement said.
The shale gas business in the US, where it has till date invested USD 6.8 billion, saw a 29 per cent rise in aggregate revenue at USD 221.3 million in the third quarter.
RIL has three upstream shale gas ventures in the US -- one each with Chevron, Pioneer Natural Resources and Carrizo Oil & Gas and a midstream joint venture with Pioneer.