In this article, we have reported the preparation and structural characterization of a new Schiff base ligand (E)-2-(((2,6-difluorophenyl)imino)methyl)phenol (HSBL) and its derived metal(II) complexes [Cu(SBL)2] (1), [Ni(SBL)2] (2) and [Pd(SBL)2] (3). Using various analytical and spectroscopic techniques, their structural properties have been appraised. The proposed chemical structure of HSBL has been confirmed by Single crystal XRD studies. Bidentate characteristic of HSBL and its coordination with metal(II) ions through the oxygen atom of the phenolic group and nitrogen atom of the azomethine group have been evaluated from the FT-IR spectral analysis. Pd(II) complex of HSBL (complex 3) has found to be efficient in bringing about the interaction with DNA as well as BSA molecules. The in vitro antimicrobial studies have been demonstrated that complex 3 has a superior antimicrobial activity than HSBL, complexes 1 and 2. According to the values of zone of inhibition, the antimicrobial ability has been increased in the order of 3 > 1 > 2 > HSBL. A significant decrease in percent cell viability has been suggested that complex 3 has remarkable cytotoxicity (IC50 = 15.7 ± 0.6 μg/mL) on human breast cancer (MCF-7) cells. Besides, their induced apoptosis pathway of cytotoxicity has been demonstrated by fluorescence staining techniques using AO/EB staining method. We hope this article will be very helpful for future research on the development of new anticancer agents. © 2019, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.