Yohan Cabaye's first goal for Newcastle condemned Wigan to their sixth successive Premier League defeat.
The Latics started positively, Victor Moses forcing Tim Krul into a diving save and Hugo Rodallega slicing wide.
Newcastle had struggled to create chances but Leon Best went close with a header, well saved by Ali Al Habsi.
The Magpies improved but Wigan seemed set for a draw until Cabaye curled in from 20 yards, as Newcastle moved level on points with third-placed Chelsea.
It was rough justice on Wigan, who, despite their abysmal run, acquitted themselves admirably.
In the early stages they had a faint penalty appeal for a challenge on Mohamed Diame but some clear chances too.
Moses had a sweetly struck left-footed shot smartly turned over by the left hand of Krul and Rodallega sliced wide when well placed inside the area following a fine through ball from David Jones.
Pardew credits 'super' Cabaye for win
Rodallega, returning to the side for the first time since mid-September following a knee injury, was then felled by a high challenge from Cabaye to the same region and required lengthy treatment before he could continue.
Newcastle took more than half an hour to fashion their first notable opportunity.
Jonas Gutierrez sent an inviting cross from the left flank which Best met with his head inside the six-yard box, but Al Habsi managed to claw it away.
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew wasted no time in changing things, introducing Hatem Ben Arfa for Best at half-time, and the Magpies made a much-improved start to the second period.
Demba Ba had been a largely anonymous figure before the break but he thought he had broken the deadlock with a deft glancing header.
However, the alert Al Habsi ensured that though he himself was behind the line, his gloves and the ball were not.
Martinez targets Wigan turn-around
The home side began to enjoy spells of pressure, but, having conceded five goals in the last two matches, Wigan defied them valiantly with some determined blocks and challenges in key areas.
Ben Arfa's fierce drive after a jinking run was beaten out by Al Habsi, but with 10 minutes remaining substitute Sylvain Marveaux laid the ball back for Cabaye who struck a first-time shot high into the corner of the net.
Still there were chances for Wigan, Moses with a teasing ball across the six-yard line, but typifying the fortunes of the league's joint-lowest scorers, who now prop up the Premier League table, there was no-one to apply the finishing touch.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez:
"Every little mistake we do we get punished.
"If we could have scored that first goal it would have been a completely different game. We are really frustrated and we got punished by a piece of quality.
"We did everything we had to apart from putting the ball in the back of the net.
"There were many positives in terms of individual performances and in many aspects I was very pleased.
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew:
"Yohan is a really class player and he brings an elegance to us that everybody really appreciates. He's hit a real cracker to get up and running.
"He's a level-headed person and footballer. He's settled in and his quality shows every week. His goal will endear him to the fans even more.
"Great credit to Wigan in their approach to the game because they were faster and crisper than us, but we must have something in the team to get to the break at 0-0.
"In the second half I felt we were better after a little chat, and I also felt we'd score. If our fans are a little bit disappointed with our performance it was worth the admittance just for the goal."
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