Kevin Davies scored twice to earn Bolton a valuable point as Sunderland failed to win for a sixth league game.
Skipper Davies volleyed home Martin Petrov's cross before Nicklas Bendtner levelled with a cool finish.
James McClean's sublime free-kick put the Black Cats ahead until Davies again showed why Sunderland wanted to buy him in January.
The 35-year-old headed a cross by Sam Ricketts into the net to lift Bolton level on points with 17th placed QPR.
Bolton had shown great spirit to come from behind to defeat Aston Villa in midweek yet they were guilty of blowing a priceless lead this time before fighting back to claim a point.
With matches against Tottenham, West Brom and Stoke to come, Bolton desperately needed to follow up the midweek win at Aston Villa with another three point haul on Wearside.
Yet the thumping win by Bolton's fellow strugglers Wigan over Newcastle means Owen Coyle's side face a nail-biting fight to the finishing line.
Sunderland gave a first start since February 2011 to Craig Gordon, the Scotland keeper fighting his way back from a knee injury.
Yet Gordon found himself fishing the ball out of his net after 26 minutes when the unmarked Davies volleyed home from six yards after Petrov's looping cross.
Did you know?
Nicklas Bendtner's goal was Sunderland's first for 431 minutes - or seven hours and 11 minutes.
Veteran Davies, linked with a move to Sunderland in the January transfer window, rolled back the years as he marked his return to the side with a delicious finish soon after Nigel Reo-Coker had gone close from distance.
Mark Davies also forced Gordon into a smart save before John O'Shea went close, with a glancing header, to netting his first goal since joining Sunderland from Manchester United last summer.
But the Black Cats found the right combination to unlock the visitors' defence in the 36th minute when Bendtner controlled a defence-splitting pass by the impressive Jack Colback before sliding home his side's first goal in five games.
The defending leading up to Bendtner's eighth goal of the season will have left Coyle livid and the Bolton manager's mood will not have improved when McClean made it 2-1 from a delightful 55th-minute free-kick.
The set-piece was awarded after Stephane Sessegnon felt the full force of a late Kevin Davies tackle, McClean finding the net despite keeper Adam Bogdan getting a hand to the ball.
But defeat for the visitors would have been cruel, and they claimed a deserved point when full-back Ricketts crossed for Davies to head firmly past Gordon in the 70th minute.
They might have snatched victory at the death when Kevin Davies headed down yet another Petrov cross to Klasnic, but Gordon managed to block his shot on the turn with his foot to spare his side further misery.
Live Text Commentary
Full Time The referee blows for the end of the match.90:00 +4:10
Outswinging corner taken by Martin Petrov from the left by-line played to the near post, clearance by Phillip Bardsley.90:00 +2:56
Martin Petrov takes the inswinging corner, clearance by John O'Shea.90:00 +1:19
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Kevin Davies by Jack Colback. Free kick taken by Tim Ream.90:00 +0:11
Ahmed Elmohamady delivers the ball, Joshua Vela manages to make a clearance.88:12
Michael Turner fouled by Kevin Davies, the ref awards a free kick. Michael Turner takes the direct free kick.87:42
Close range header by Nicklas Bendtner goes over the crossbar.87:27
Inswinging corner taken by James McClean from the right by-line, Tim Ream makes a clearance.86:51
Shot by Ivan Klasnic from 6 yards. Save by Craig Gordon.86:42
The ball is swung over by Martin Petrov.84:38
Unfair challenge on Ryo Miyaichi by Wayne Bridge results in a free kick. David Wheater takes the free kick.83:15
The ball is sent over by Nicklas Bendtner.82:27
Dedryck Boyata gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Stephane Sessegnon. Free kick crossed by Phillip Bardsley.81:35
James McClean takes the inswinging corner, clearance by Joshua Vela.81:08 Substitution
Substitution Wayne Bridge joins the action as a substitute, replacing Matthew Kilgallon.80:52
A cross is delivered by Ahmed Elmohamady, blocked by Tim Ream.79:14
The ball is delivered by James McClean, blocked by Mark Davies.79:01
Corner taken by James McClean from the left by-line.78:49
The ball is delivered by Ahmed Elmohamady, clearance made by David Wheater.77:05 Substitution
Substitution Nigel Reo-Coker leaves the field to be replaced by Joshua Vela.
Effort from the edge of the box by Ivan Klasnic goes wide of the left-hand upright.76:20
Nicklas Bendtner takes a shot. Comfortable save by Adam Bogdan.75:17
Martin Petrov produces a cross, Lee Cattermole makes a clearance.74:40
Inswinging corner taken left-footed by James McClean from the right by-line, clearance by Ivan Klasnic.74:33
Ahmed Elmohamady produces a cross, David Wheater makes a clearance.73:48
Ryo Miyaichi crosses the ball.72:40
Samuel Ricketts concedes a free kick for a foul on Ahmed Elmohamady. Free kick crossed left-footed by James McClean.72:10
The referee penalises Samuel Ricketts for handball. Craig Gordon takes the free kick.71:11 Substitution
Substitution Ahmed Elmohamady joins the action as a substitute, replacing Fraizer Campbell.69:44
Assist by Samuel Ricketts.69:44 Goal scored
Goal! - Kevin Davies - Sunderland 2 - 2 Bolton Kevin Davies finds the back of the net with a headed goal from inside the six-yard box. Sunderland 2-2 Bolton.69:40
The ball is swung over by Samuel Ricketts,67:57
A cross is delivered by Ryo Miyaichi.65:06
Shot from just outside the box by Fraizer Campbell goes over the bar.64:35
Fraizer Campbell fouled by Mark Davies, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Michael Turner.64:25
Centre by Ryo Miyaichi, John O'Shea manages to make a clearance.63:21 Substitution
Substitution Ryo Miyaichi comes on in place of Chris Eagles.63:21 Substitution
Substitution David Ngog goes off and Ivan Klasnic comes on.62:46
John O'Shea has an effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the right of the goal.62:28
Short corner taken by James McClean from the left by-line.61:01
Outswinging corner taken by Martin Petrov from the left by-line, Header from close range by David Wheater clears the bar.60:53
Martin Petrov produces a cross, blocked by John O'Shea.60:24
A cross is delivered by James McClean.59:59
Samuel Ricketts delivers the ball, save made by Craig Gordon.59:05
Chris Eagles gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Phillip Bardsley. Craig Gordon restarts play with the free kick.57:21
Foul by Lee Cattermole on Kevin Davies, free kick awarded. Direct effort from the free kick comes in from Chris Eagles.54:27
Stephane Sessegnon provided the assist for the goal.54:27 Goal scored
Goal! - James McClean - Sunderland 2 - 1 Bolton Free kick scored by James McClean from outside the penalty area to the top right corner of the goal. Sunderland 2-1 Bolton.53:18
Kevin Davies gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Stephane Sessegnon.52:39
Corner taken right-footed by Chris Eagles from the right by-line, John O'Shea manages to make a clearance.50:12
The official flags Kevin Davies offside. Indirect free kick taken by Craig Gordon.48:46
Effort from 25 yards by Chris Eagles. Craig Gordon makes a save.45:25
Phillip Bardsley concedes a free kick for a foul on Dedryck Boyata. Free kick crossed left-footed by Martin Petrov from right wing, Phillip Bardsley makes a clearance.45:01
The second half begins.45:00 +1:04 Half time
Half Time The first half comes to an end.44:57
Corner taken left-footed by Martin Petrov, Kevin Davies has a header from deep inside the six-yard box and clears the crossbar.44:41
Shot by David Ngog. Craig Gordon makes a save.43:18
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Chris Eagles by Phillip Bardsley. Direct free kick taken by Dedryck Boyata.43:00
The ball is crossed by Stephane Sessegnon, clearance by David Wheater.42:40
Phillip Bardsley takes a inswinging corner from the left by-line played to the near post, David Ngog makes a clearance.42:20
James McClean delivers the ball, David Wheater gets a block in.40:29
David Ngog gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Lee Cattermole. Free kick crossed right-footed by Phillip Bardsley from left wing, Kevin Davies manages to make a clearance.38:44
Matthew Kilgallon fouled by Kevin Davies, the ref awards a free kick. Craig Gordon takes the direct free kick.38:05
Foul by Lee Cattermole on Mark Davies, free kick awarded. Direct free kick taken by Adam Bogdan.37:38
John O'Shea takes a shot. Save made by Adam Bogdan.36:56
Phillip Bardsley produces a drilled right-footed shot from 18 yards. Tim Ream gets a block in.35:54
Jack Colback provided the assist for the goal.35:54 Goal scored
Goal! - Nicklas Bendtner - Sunderland 1 - 1 Bolton Nicklas Bendtner gets on the score sheet with a goal from inside the box to the bottom left corner of the goal. Sunderland 1-1 Bolton.34:40
Nigel Reo-Coker takes the free kick.34:40 Booking
Booking Lee Cattermole is shown a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.34:34
Lee Cattermole concedes a free kick for a foul on Mark Davies.33:51
David Ngog has an effort at goal from outside the penalty box missing to the wide left of the goal.32:40
The ball is swung over by Martin Petrov, save by Craig Gordon.32:00
A cross is delivered by Fraizer Campbell.31:29
Mark Davies is penalised for a handball. Free kick taken by Jack Colback.30:16
Foul by Nigel Reo-Coker on Lee Cattermole, free kick awarded. James McClean delivers the ball, Matthew Kilgallon produces a header from the edge of the box and misses to the left of the goal.29:03
Martin Petrov sends in a cross.26:34
Drilled right-footed shot by Phillip Bardsley. Blocked by David Wheater.26:11
Nigel Reo-Coker challenges Nicklas Bendtner unfairly and gives away a free kick. John O'Shea restarts play with the free kick.25:14
Assist on the goal came from Martin Petrov.25:14 Goal scored
Goal! - Kevin Davies - Sunderland 0 - 1 Bolton Kevin Davies scores a goal from close in low into the middle of the goal. Sunderland 0-1 Bolton.25:11
The ball is crossed by Martin Petrov,24:01
Martin Petrov delivers the ball, Header from deep inside the area by David Ngog goes harmlessly over the crossbar.23:14
Nicklas Bendtner is adjudged to have handled the ball. Indirect free kick taken by Mark Davies.22:11
David Ngog is adjudged to have handled the ball. Craig Gordon takes the indirect free kick.21:22
Shot by Phillip Bardsley. Blocked by David Wheater.20:31
Jack Colback fouled by Mark Davies, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Matthew Kilgallon.18:41
Kevin Davies gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Michael Turner. Free kick taken by Craig Gordon.18:05
Nigel Reo-Coker concedes a free kick for a foul on Jack Colback. Free kick taken by Phillip Bardsley.17:19
Lee Cattermole produces a cross, Tim Ream manages to make a clearance.16:28
Samuel Ricketts challenges Fraizer Campbell unfairly and gives away a free kick. James McClean crosses the ball in from the free kick, David Ngog manages to make a clearance.14:42
The ball is delivered by Phillip Bardsley, David Wheater makes a clearance.14:04
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Phillip Bardsley played to the near post, David Ngog makes a clearance.13:04
The assistant referee signals for offside against Mark Davies. Free kick taken by Craig Gordon.12:12
James McClean fouled by Kevin Davies, the ref awards a free kick. Craig Gordon restarts play with the free kick.11:26
Shot from a long way out by Nicklas Bendtner goes wide of the left-hand upright.10:27
Shot from 12 yards from Martin Petrov. Michael Turner gets a block in.10:01
Nicklas Bendtner is ruled offside. Adam Bogdan restarts play with the free kick.9:40
Mark Davies takes a shot. Save by Craig Gordon.8:12
Shot from outside the penalty box by Nigel Reo-Coker goes wide right of the goal.5:59
David Ngog takes a shot. Blocked by Matthew Kilgallon.5:36
The offside flag is raised against Nicklas Bendtner. Adam Bogdan takes the free kick.4:47
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Jack Colback by Mark Davies. Lee Cattermole takes the direct free kick.2:37
Michael Turner gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Chris Eagles. Direct strike on goal from the free kick comes in from Chris Eagles.0:00
The game gets underway.
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