It looked like visiting goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey would leave Bolton frustrated again with a series of a fine saves but a disastrous back pass from Ronald Zubar presented on-loan Chelsea striker Sturridge with a chance he could not miss.
Moments earlier, Kevin Doyle had seen his shot deflected onto a post while Matt Jarvis also missed a glorious chance for Wolves, who dropped below West Ham to the foot of the table after their win at Blackpool.
Bolton boss Owen Coyle threw Lee Chung-yong straight back into the action on his return from the Asian Cup but Sturridge had to settle for a place on the bench, as did Wolves new boy Jamie O’Hara.
Bolton should have been behind in the opening 10 minutes when they got their offside trap all wrong, leaving Matt Jarvis in acres of space.
The winger has been talked about as a potential England player this season but he will want to forget the weak shot he rolled past the post when it looked far easier to score. After a lively spell, the first half became something of a stalemate, although Sam Ricketts was unlucky to see his sweetly-struck 25-yarder fly just past the post with Hennessey stranded. Wolves began the second half the brighter and Hammill embarked on a mazy run that ended with the midfielder seeing his shot blocked by Zat Knight.
Bolton responded and, after Kevin Davies had stabbed a corner towards the net, Lee’s flick from almost on the goalline was well kept out by Hennessey.
With 23 minutes remaining, Coyle gave Sturridge his debut, but it was Elmander who should have scored moments later only for the striker to connect poorly with Mark Davies’ fine pull-back.
With only seconds remaining, the visitors shot themselves in the foot, leaving Zubar hanging his head and the Bolton fans saluting a new hero.
BOLTON: Jaaskelainen, Ricketts, Cahill, Knight, Robinson, Lee (Moreno 67), Holden, Mark Davies, Taylor (Sturridge 67), Elmander, Kevin Davies (Muamba 90).
WOLVES: Hennessey, Zubar, Berra, Stearman, Elokobi, Hammill (Ebanks-Blake 89), David Jones, Henry, Edwards (O’Hara 75), Jarvis (Ward 75), Doyle.
Ref: P Walton (Northamptonshire).