Kenwyne Jones (right) caused Bolton's defence problems in the first half
Relegation-threatened Sunderland had to settle for a point despite dominating much of the game at the Reebok Stadium.
Kieran Richardson missed three good chances to put them ahead and Grant Leadbitter also went close when he fired into the side netting.
Bolton, who are now almost safe from the drop, nearly snatched a winner.
Wanderers substitute Mark Davies fired over from 10 yards out and in injury time, Sunderland goalkeeper Marton Fulop superbly denied Gary Cahill.
Sunderland's attention will now turn to Monday's match between their struggling North-East rivals Newcastle and Middlesbrough.
A victory for either side in that game would drag Ricky Sbragia's men closer to the bottom three.
Sbragia pleased with team display
However, the visitors could have greatly helped their own cause by taking their chances against a Bolton side that struggled badly in the opening 45 minutes.
Richardson and Leadbitter both shot wide from long range after collecting knockdowns from Sunderland target man Kenwyne Jones.
Leadbitter then cut in from the left and sent a drive just wide of the near post, before Richardson missed a great opportunity to put Sunderland ahead.
Jones did well to nudge Steed Malbranque's ball from the left into Richardson's path, only for the unmarked midfielder to blaze over from 12 yards out.
Draw was a fair result - Megson
Richardson almost atoned for that miss when he gathered yet another knockdown from Jones and sent a rasping shot just over from the edge of the area.
And shortly before half-time, Richardson was denied by a brilliant sliding tackle from former Sunderland midfielder Gavin McCann.
Richardson pounced to go through on goal after a mistake by Bolton's Andy O'Brien and was about to shoot as McCann intervened with a perfectly-timed challenge, ensuring his team reached the interval on level terms.
Davies, making his comeback after two months out with a knee injury, was sent on at half-time by Bolton boss Gary Megson in place of Tamir Cohen.
Megson's attempt to breath life into his team had some effect, with Cahill shooting over during a decent spell for the home side.
Bolton's main attacking threat was often marauding right-back Gretar Steinsson, whose 67th-minute cross led to a goalmouth scramble, during which Davies had an effort blocked by Calum Davenport.
Having made such a lively start, Sunderland posed less of a threat as the game wore on - especially after Jones limped off and was replaced by Djibril Cisse.
But they could still have claimed a priceless goal had Richardson not steered a shot wide of the target late on.
That miss was almost punished in the closing minutes, when Kevin Davies headed down for Mark Davies to volley over.
And Fulop was called upon to keep out Cahill's last-gasp header, saving the Wearsiders from a potentially disastrous defeat.
Bolton manager Gary Megson:
"We're not playing as I would expect or hope for us to play. What's happening is that we're not performing too well in the first half and in the second we're completely changing it around.
"We're not safe mathematically, but we look like we've got a bit of a safety net. We're not quite what we were a month ago. Sunderland are not safe and they've got that heart and desire.
"It was a fantastic save by Fulop at the end. Whether a goal would have been fair on Sunderland, I'm not so sure."
Sunderland boss Ricky Sbragia:
"At this stage of the season, winning matches is not easy.
"Maybe we could have done with the blood pressure coming down a bit so we showed a bit more composure in front of goal but at least we created chances.
"It is okay saying you have three games to get something in but doing it is another matter entirely."
Jaaskelainen, Steinsson, Cahill, Andrew O'Brien, Samuel, Kevin Davies, Muamba, McCann, Cohen (Mark Davies 46), Taylor, Elmander (Riga 67).
Subs Not Used: Al Habsi, Smolarek, Puygrenier, Makukula, Basham.
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