Bolton's superior firepower secured a crucial three points at the expense of fellow strugglers Wigan in a fiercely contested derby at the Reebok Stadium.
Nolan produced an excellent finish for his side's second goal
A comical own goal from Wigan's Paul Scharner gave Bolton the lead after just two minutes, but the Latics soon levelled through Denny Landzaat's shot.
Nicolas Anelka fired a penalty over the bar, but made amends by crossing for Kevin Nolan to skilfully backheel home.
Kevin Davies and Anelka exploited poor defending to kill off a frenetic game.
Before kick-off, Bolton were expecting one of their lowest crowd since the club's arrival in the Premier League for one of the division's less glamorous fixtures.
The absentees missed five goals and a match full of endeavour, if somewhat lacking in quality with an unappealing mixture of aimless balls forward and poor first touches making for a spectacle which was far from easy on the eye.
Wigan were looking for a solid start against a side just two points above them in the table, but Scharner - under no pressure whatsoever - inexplicably nodded El-Hadji Diouf's innocuous cross past Chris Kirkland after just two minutes.
As Bolton celebrated the gifted goal, Scharner spent several seconds with his head in his hands, kneeling on the floor, as well he might.
Wigan found an equaliser 10 minutes later after Antonio Valencia's accurate long pass allowed Marcus Bent to link up with Emmerson Boyce on the right.
Scharner scored a horrible own goal to give Bolton the initiative
Boyce's low cross was casually backheeled away by Abdoulaye Meite, perfectly into the path of Landzaat who fired home past Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Bolton had a decent penalty shout turned down soon after when Nicky Hunt's cross into the box seemed to hit Jason Koumas's arm, but the referee waved the appeals away.
The next appeal was clear-cut though as Wigan centre-back Andreas Granqvist blocked Danny Guthrie's shot with his arm, but Anelka - who missed an open goal against Liverpool last week - fired his penalty well over the bar.
Titus Bramble's woeful attempted clearance gave Anelka the chance to make a more positive contribution on 36 minutes, with the French striker turning Hunt's pass back across goal where Nolan improvised superbly to backheel the ball into the net.
Koumas's long-range free-kick went close for Wigan, but genuine opportunities were few and far between as the first half drew to a close.
The match was more about effort than inspiration for the most part
Anelka's uncertain form in front of goal continued almost straight from the kick-off as he shanked his effort horribly wide after getting the ball in space one-on-one.
Wigan began to turn the screw from the set-piece, winning seven corners in a row, but they found Jaaskelainen in inspired form as he saved well from Bent, Valencia and Emile Heskey in quick succession.
Bolton gradually got themselves back into the swing of things, with Boyce having to head a Diouf effort off the line and Davies's cross from the right.
But Bolton did move two goals clear when more slapdash Wigan defending allowed Davies to saunter in almost unopposed to guide Diouf's free-kick in from close range.
And with the result beyond doubt, a late Anelka finish - after he got on the end of Davies's cross - rubbed salt in Wigan's wounds.
Bolton boss Gary Megson:
"Nicolas Anelka has got a lot of goals for us, but people I'd expect to be scoring haven't been so it's good to see one or two starting to chip in.
"It's as big a win as when we beat Manchester United, it's a terrific result for us.
"The performance could have been better but we got better as the game went on."
Wigan boss Steve Bruce:
"We didn't defend well enough - we gifted them their first goal and then conceded from a free-kick.
"At the other end there was a time when we were camped in their box but they defended better than we did.
"We just didn't do the basics. In a relegation struggle you need a solid base so we'll be focussing on that."
Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Hunt, Meite, Andrew O'Brien, Gardner, Nolan (Giannakopoulos 90), Campo (Speed 90), Guthrie, Davies, Anelka, Diouf (McCann 77).
Subs Not Used: Al Habsi, Michalik.
Booked: Andrew O'Brien, Guthrie.
Goals: Scharner 3 og, Nolan 37, Davies 70, Anelka 89.
Wigan: Kirkland, Boyce, Granqvist, Bramble, Kilbane, Valencia, Scharner, Landzaat, Koumas, Bent, Heskey (Brown 72).
Subs Not Used: Pollitt, Taylor, Skoko, Cotterill.
Goals: Landzaat 14.
Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).