Darren Bent scored his first hat-trick at the perfect time in his Sunderland career, with owner Ellis Short on Wearside to check on his investment.
The £10million striker lifted the pressure on the Black Cats and manager Steve Bruce with a well-taken treble which helped lift the club six points clear of the relegation zone and into 13th place in the Barclays Premier League.
Bolton were the fall guys on a night when the home side ended their wait for a league win at the 15th attempt, a run which dated back to November 21 last year.
Fraizer Campbell set the ball rolling after just 44 seconds with his first league goal for the club, but Bent took over after the break as he extended his personal tally for the season to 19, to the delight of a crowd of 36,087.
He struck after 64 minutes, from the penalty spot after 74 following defender Sam Ricketts' dismissal for a second bookable offence, and then again two minutes from time, and that for a team which had previously scored just two goals in six games.
Bruce sent his side out determined to give Short something to shout about after chatting briefly with the Texan before kick-off, and he could hardly have been more pleased with their response during the opening 45 minutes.
A Bolton team which had picked up six points from their last two matches against Wolves and West Ham and who arrived on Wearside looking for a third successive Premier League win for the first time since December 2006, was barely allowed a look-in as Sunderland imposed themselves from the off.
There was little sign of the crippling anxiety which has afflicted the Black Cats since they last tasted victory as they took the game to the visitors and threatened to have it won by the break.
They were ahead with less than a minute on the clock when Campbell latched on to Lorik Cana's looping cross and guided it past Jussi Jaaskelainen from point-blank range.
Instantly, the tension which has engulfed the Stadium of Light in recent months was lifted, and as Steed Malbranque, back after being punished for a breach of club discipline, responded with a fleet-footed display in an unaccustomed role on the left wing, there was the promise of more to come.
It perhaps should have been 2-0 with 23 minutes gone when Sunderland broke from a Bolton corner as Malbranque fed Campbell, and he in turn picked out Bent with a fine ball over the top.
Sunderland's leading scorer stepped inside Gretar Steinsson and then guided his shot past Ricketts' desperate lunge on the line, but agonisingly just past the far post.
Kenwyne Jones produced a rasping right-foot drive in the 36th minute which Jaaskelainen had to turn away, then fired just high and wide two minutes later, and the Finn had to keep out Alan Hutton's low drive in the final minute of the half.
Bolton offered little in return with John Mensah handling the muscular Kevin Davies admirably, although Zat Knight might have done better from a tight angle with 27 minutes gone, blazing his effort high and wide.
They mustered perhaps their best attempt of the game to date within three minutes of the restart when Steinsson found himself in an advanced position and drilled a low shot towards the bottom corner, although Hutton was on hand to make an important block.
Ricardo Gardner ballooned a tame shot high and wide and the hosts might have paid when referee Steve Bennett allowed play to continue as Davies and Mensah became embroiled in a wrestling match with 57 minutes gone - but Craig Gordon parried Johan Elmander's shot and Lee Chung-yong was unable to convert the rebound.
However, they took a decisive step towards victory with 64 minutes gone when Cattermole slid Bent in and he outpaced Ricketts before firing past Jaaskelainen.
The game was over 10 minutes later when Ricketts, who had been booked for a first-half foul on Jones, barged Bent to the ground inside the box and was yellow-carded for a second time.
Bent comprehensively beat Jaaskelainen from the spot to seal a precious victory, and his third, a neat finish from Campbell's 88th-minute cross, was just reward for a good night's work.