Igor Biscan's late header sealed victory for Liverpool and moved the Reds to within one point of Everton in the race for fourth place.
Steve Finnan had headed off the line to deny Stelios Giannakopoulos, while Jussi Jaaskelainen saved from Steven Gerrard and Antonio Nunez.
Bolton pushed on and Scott Carson saved from Jay-Jay Okocha while Finnan headed clear again to deny Kevin Davies.
With a draw likely Biscan headed home Djimi Traore's cross from six yards.
Liverpool, perhaps distracted by their imminent Champions League tie with Juventus, lacked intensity for much of the match and created precious few chances before Biscan struck.
But the victory, whether deserved or not, keeps the pressure on Everton in the race for the fourth and final Champions League place.
Bolton, with European designs of their own, settled before Liverpool seemed to realise the match had started.
Carson, making his home debut, struggled to clear an inswinging Gary Speed corner yards from his goal, while Finnan brilliantly headed off his own line minutes later.
Bolton pressed and harried, causing uncertainty in the Liverpool backline.
Carragher's firm header towards Carson eluded the advancing goalkeeper and drifted narrowly wide of the home goal with Giannakopoulos in pursuit.
Rafael Benitez's team, with virtually all their strikers either injured or suspended, lacked bite up front.
And with the exception of a superb long-range strike from Gerrard that Jaaskelainen saved low to his right, Liverpool had nothing to show for their first-half endeavours.
Antonio Nunez hinted at better just after the break, a superb volley from wide of the area forcing Jaaskelainen into action again.
Tal Ben Haim cleared the ball after John Aarne Riise had drilled it towards goal from an acute angle.
Bolton boss Sam Allardyce introduced Jay-Jay Okocha, while Anthony Le Tallec, Vladimir Smicer and Fernando Morientes, who picked up a thigh strain against Everton, came on for Liverpool.
But the fare remained poor for the 43,755 inside Anfield, with Bolton enjoying most of the few chances.
Carson made a fine one-handed save to deny Okocha from long range, while Finnan again headed off the line, this time thwarting Davies.
Liverpool had lacked penetration but a move of unusual fluency culminated in Traore crossing for Biscan to rise above the Bolton defence to score.
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez:
"I'm very happy. It was a tough game. We know Bolton work hard and would fight for the ball but in the end it was very good for us.
"We knew it was important to win because the table is very close and we are trying to close the gap with Everton for fourth place.
"If you win against teams close to you, you have more confidence and believe in the things you are doing."
Bolton manager Sam Allardyce:
"It is hugely disappointing. We should have had the game over by the time Liverpool scored.
"We did not take advantage of Liverpool's injuries. The players know what a chance they had and instead of at least a point we have got nothing.
"In the Premiership you get punished if you don't score when you are on top."
Liverpool: Carson, Finnan, Carragher, Pellegrino, Traore, Nunez (Morientes 79), Welsh (Smicer 73), Biscan, Gerrard, Riise (Le Tallec 60), Luis Garcia.
Subs Not Used: Dudek, Hyypia.
Goals: Biscan 86.
Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Hunt (Okocha 50), N'Gotty, Ben Haim, Candela, Hierro (Campo 83), Giannakopoulos (Pedersen 64), Speed, Nolan, Gardner, Davies.
Subs Not Used: Poole, Jaidi.
Booked: Hierro, Ben Haim, Candela.
Ref: S Bennett (Kent).