Debutant Daniel Sturridge's goal deep into injury time gave Bolton their first Premier League win in six games.
The striker, a loan signing from Chelsea on transfer deadline day, pounced on a dreadful back pass from Ronald Zubar to steal the points.
Until then, goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey had denied Bolton at the Reebok, making three outstanding saves.
The best Wolves chance fell to Matt Jarvis but he could not force a save from Jussi Jaaskelainen.
And the combination of Jarvis's miss, Sturridge's late blow and a win by West Ham United at Blackpool left Mick McCarthy's men two points adrift at the bottom of the table.
McCarthy 'has no words' for Bolton defeat
The visitors should have put a different complexion on the match after only 10 minutes.
Adam Hammill pumped a lofted pass forward from the halfway line, releasing Jarvis into acres of space as an inadequate Bolton offside trap was sprung with ease.
All Jarvis had to do was slip the ball past Jaaskelainen as the goalkeeper advanced in desperation, but somehow he missed the left-hand post before burying his head in his hands.
The hosts created four good chances in the first half. Johan Elmander connected poorly when presented with a header from Stuart Holden's cross, but made much better contact when Kevin Davies used his strength and experience to provide a short lay-off from the edge of the box.
This time Elmander's right-footed strike was heading for the corner, only for Hennessey to dive to his right to pull off a good save.
Hennessey was also called into action when Chung-Yong Lee, despite being felled by George Elokobi, got back to his feet to swing a lovely cross through to Matt Taylor. Again the Wolves keeper saved the day.
Although McCarthy's side produced a few bright moments aside from the spurned Jarvis chance, the visitors' defenders were frequently put under pressure and rarely looked confident of coping.
As the interval approached, they were almost caught napping when Sam Ricketts cut in from the left and unleashed a fierce shot that whistled just wide of Hennessey's left-hand upright with the keeper stranded.
A generally scrappy second half was enlivened by some marauding runs from Hammill, the £500,000 signing from Barnsley who looks a very useful prospect.
Bolton gradually began to reassert their superiority and when Lee sent through a telling cross from the right it almost resulted in a goal.
Coyle delighted with 'quality' Sturridge
An attempted clearance from Wolves defender Christophe Berra went badly wrong, but Hennessey was on hand to make his third excellent save of the night.
Both teams made changes as they pressed for a positive finish. Among the substitutes were Sturridge and Wolves' new face in midfield, Jamie O'Hara.
The visitors remained second best and Jaaskelainen was not called on to make a save of note in the entire match.
Bolton could not capitalise on a rare error from Hennessey when the keeper dropped the ball at the feet of Elmander, but an awkward bounce prevented the Swede from getting a meaningful shot away.
Surprisingly, it was Wolves who came closest to breaking the deadlock when Kevin Doyle's deflected shot rebounded off an upright - but it would have been a doubly fortunate goal, since the striker had clearly begun his run from an offside position.
It looked set to be a frustrating night for both sets of supporters, until Sturridge, who had been kept quiet in his 23-minute slice of action, hit a first-time shot sweetly past Hennessey from close range - though what Zubar was trying to achieve with his ill-advised backpass was anyone's guess.
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