Is there a combinatorial way to see the link between the beta and gamma functions?

The Wikipedia page on the beta function gives a simple formula for it in terms of the gamma function. Using that and the fact that $\Gamma(n+1)=n!$, I can prove the following formula:
$$
\begin{eqnarray*}
\frac{a!b!}{(a+b+1)!} & = & \frac{\Gamma(a+1)\Gamma(b+1)}{\Gamma(a+1+b+1)}\\
& = & B(a+1,b+1)\\
& = & \int_{0}^{1}t^{a}(1-t)^{b}dt\\
& = & \int_{0}^{1}t^{a}\sum_{i=0}^{b}\binom{b}{i}(-t)^{i}dt\\
& = & \int_{0}^{1}\sum_{i=0}^{b}\binom{b}{i}(-1)^{i}t^{a+i}dt\\
& = & \sum_{i=0}^{b}\binom{b}{i}(-1)^{i}\int_{0}^{1}t^{a+i}dt\\
& = & \sum_{i=0}^{b}\binom{b}{i}(-1)^{i}\left[\frac{t^{a+i+1}}{a+i+1}\right]_{t=0}^{1}\\
& = & \sum_{i=0}^{b}\binom{b}{i}(-1)^{i}\frac{1}{a+i+1}\\
b! & = & \sum_{i=0}^{b}\binom{b}{i}(-1)^{i}\frac{(a+b+1)!}{a!(a+i+1)}
\end{eqnarray*}
$$
This last formula involves only natural numbers and operations familiar in combinatorics, and it feels very much as if there should be a combinatoric proof, but I’ve been trying for a while and can’t see it. I can prove it in the case $a=0$:
$$
\begin{eqnarray*}
& & \sum_{i=0}^{b}\binom{b}{i}(-1)^{i}\frac{(b+1)!}{0!(i+1)}\\
& = & \sum_{i=0}^{b}(-1)^{i}\frac{b!(b+1)!}{i!(b-i)!(i+1)}\\
& = & b!\sum_{i=0}^{b}(-1)^{i}\frac{(b+1)!}{(i+1)!(b-i)!}\\
& = & b!\sum_{i=0}^{b}(-1)^{i}\binom{b+\text{1}}{i+1}\\
& = & b!\left(1-\sum_{i=0}^{b+1}(-1)^{i}\binom{b+\text{1}}{i}\right)\\
& = & b!
\end{eqnarray*}
$$
Can anyone see how to prove it for arbitrary $a$? Thanks!

Solutions Collecting From Web of "Is there a combinatorial way to see the link between the beta and gamma functions?"

Here’s a combinatorial argument for $a!\, b! = \sum_{i=0}^{b}\binom{b}{i}(-1)^{i}\frac{(a+b+1)!}{(a+i+1)}$, which is just a slight rewrite of the identity you want to show.

Suppose you have $a$ red balls numbered $1$ through $a$, $b$ blue balls numbered $1$ through $b$, and one black ball.

Question: How many permutations of the balls have all the red balls first, then the black ball, and then the blue balls?

Answer 1: $a! \,b!$. There are $a!$ ways to choose the red balls to go in the first $a$ slots, $b!$ ways to choose the blue balls to go in the last $b$ slots, and $1$ way for the black ball to go in slot $a+1$.

Answer 2: Let $A$ be the set of all permutations in which the black ball appears after all the red balls (irrespective of where the blue balls go). Let $B_i$ be the subset of $A$ such that the black ball appears after blue ball $i$. Then the number of permutations we’re after is also given by $|A| – \left|\bigcup_{i=1}^b B_i\right|$. Since the probability that the black ball appears last of any particular $a+i+1$ balls is $\frac{1}{a+i+1}$, and there are $(a+b+1)!$ total ways to arrange the balls, by the principle of inclusion-exclusion we get $$\frac{(a+b+1)!}{a+1} – \sum_{i=1}^{b}\binom{b}{i}(-1)^{i+1}\frac{(a+b+1)!}{(a+i+1)} = \sum_{i=0}^{b}\binom{b}{i}(-1)^{i}\frac{(a+b+1)!}{(a+i+1)}.$$

Using partial fractions, we have that
$$
\frac{1}{(a+1)(a+2)\dots(a+b+1)}=\frac{A_1}{a+1}+\frac{A_2}{a+2}+\dots+\frac{A_{b+1}}{a+b+1}\tag{1}
$$
Use the Heaviside Method; multiply $(1)$ by $(a+k)$ and set $a=-k$ to solve $(1)$ for $A_k$:
$$
A_k=\frac{(-1)^{k-1}}{(k-1)!(b-k+1)!}=\frac{(-1)^{k-1}}{b!}\binom{b}{k-1}\tag{2}
$$
Plugging $(2)$ into $(1)$, yields
$$
\frac{a!}{(a+b+1)!}=\sum_{k=1}^{b+1}\frac{(-1)^{k-1}}{b!}\binom{b}{k-1}\frac{1}{a+k}\tag{3}
$$
Multiplying $(3)$ by $b!$ and reindexing, gives us
$$
\frac{a!b!}{(a+b+1)!}=\sum_{k=0}^{b}(-1)^k\binom{b}{k}\frac{1}{a+k+1}\tag{4}
$$
and $(4)$ is your identity.


Update: Starting from the basic binomial identity
$$
(1-x)^b=\sum_{k=0}^b(-1)^k\binom{b}{k}x^k\tag{5}
$$
multiply both sides of $(5)$ by $x^a$ and integrate from $0$ to $1$:
$$
B(a+1,b+1)=\sum_{k=0}^b(-1)^k\binom{b}{k}\frac{1}{a+k+1}\tag{6}
$$