Salomon Kalou scored the only goal as Chelsea won in the Premier League for the first time since 25 August.
Kalou scored with an opportunistic goal for Chelsea
It was Chelsea's first Premier League goal in 460 minutes, Kalou scoring from a tight angle after hesitation between Abdoulaye Meite and Jussi Jaaskelainen.
The Bolton keeper made decent saves from Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda.
Bolton created several chances and Petr Cech denied Kevin Davies, El-Hadji Diouf and Nicolas Anelka, while Stelios Giannakopoulos clipped the crossbar.
Boss Sammy Lee went into the fixture having left midfield duo Kevin Nolan and Gary Speed out of the squad.
It was a brave move but the team he did select can perhaps consider themselves unfortunate to lose after taking the match to Chelsea and, in the first half at least, creating numerous openings.
Nonetheless, the result means Bolton have lost three of their four Premier League matches at home and have collected just five points from their nine games to remain anchored in the bottom three.
For Avram Grant, it was his first Premier League victory as Chelsea boss and gives his team back-to-back wins after the Champions League defeat of Valencia in midweek.
Chelsea threatened within a minute, Jaaskelainen saving Kalou's flicked header, but it was Bolton who stamped their authority over the opening phase of the match.
Danny Guthrie forced Cech into an early save, while the Czech keeper was forced into action again to deny Davies after the stand-in skipper ended a driving run with a low strike.
The visiting team, at the ground where they clinched the Premier League title in 2005, slowly began to assume control of the midfield.
Lampard, back in the side after a thigh injury, made clean contact from 20 yards. Jasskelainen spilled the shot but the ball fell to a Bolton player.
Kalou twice created opportunities for Malouda, first with a brilliant curved pass and then with a header. Malouda wastefully drilled his first strike over the crossbar while Jaaskelainen made an excellent low save from his second effort.
Bolton's enthusiasm, though, was clear to see and they continued to push forward whenever possible.
Terry, wearing his mask, struggled to contain Davies while Cech saved from Ivan Campo and, after a superb Bolton break, denied Nicolas Anelka.
The home team were made to pay for the moment of hesitation between Meite and Jaaskelainen as they attempted to clear a header into the box.
Kalou seized his chance to steal between the two, resisting an attempt from Meite to wrestle him off the ball before putting Chelsea ahead.
Bolton might have immediately restored parity - and gone into the break on level terms, but Steve Sidwell escaped what appeared to be a handball inside his own area.
Diouf was the next to threaten, climbing to meet a Davies cross but denied by Cech.
Claudio Pizarro replaced the injured Kalou at the break and failed to hit the target with two ambitious strikes, while Joe Cole also missed from distance.
Bolton continued to enjoy their fair share of the play but lacked the penetration they found in the first half.
They had a decent chance when Sidwell was penalised for handball 19 yards from goal but Anelka's strike cleared the crossbar by some distance.
Substitute Giannakopoulos shaved the crossbar with a header in injury time.
Bolton boss Sammy Lee:
"I was pleased. I don't want people to misread that but the application of the players was superb.
"I'm pleased with the fact we created a number of chances against Chelsea and played some good football.
"It was a very solid team performance. We really pushed Chelsea right to the end. The team spirit was superb."
Chelsea boss Avram Grant:
"We deserved to win. We created more chances.
"It is not easy against Bolton but three points is what mattered. It was very good for the team after we did not start the season so well.
"We missed many, many players through either injuries or red cards but we dominated the game."
Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Joey O'Brien (Giannakopoulos 85), Andrew O'Brien, Meite, Gardner, Campo, Davies, Guthrie, McCann, Diouf (Wilhelmsson 66), Anelka.
Subs Not Used: Al Habsi, Cid, Braaten.
Booked: Campo, Diouf, McCann, Davies, Jaaskelainen.
Chelsea: Cech, Belletti, Terry, Carvalho, Ashley Cole, Makelele, Lampard, Sidwell, Malouda (Shevchenko 73), Kalou (Pizarro 46), Joe Cole (Ferreira 84).
Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Ben-Haim.
Goals: Kalou 41.
Ref: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).