There was little in the first half to suggest the Black Cats would not ultimately cruise home, with Adam Johnson twice denied by superb saves from Andrew Lonergan.
Making only his second start of the season, Connor Wickham headed a cross from James McClean into Lonergan’s arms, then Craig Gardner came close with a free-kick in the first action of the second period.
Bolton, though, seized the initiative after the break and almost grabbed the lead in the 55th minute when a poor clearance by Simon Mignolet let in Sordell, who fluffed his chance. Bolton’s opener arrived courtesy of a careless challenge by Jack Colback on Darren Pratley just inside the box, allowing Sordell to convert from the penalty spot.
The visitors increased their lead 10 minutes later when Chris Eagles threaded a fine ball to Tyrone Mears, who squared for Sordell to force his second under Mignolet.
There was more good news for Bolton fans before the restart as Stuart Holden came off the bench to make only his second appearance in almost two years due to a horrific knee injury.
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Bardsley, Kilgallon, Bramble, Colback (Cattermole 76), Johnson (Larsson 71), Vaughan, Gardner, McClean, Sessegnon, Wickham (Campbell 71).
BOLTON: Lonergan, Mears, Knight, Ricketts, Alonso, Vela (Holden 74), Spearing, Afobe (Lee 70), Pratley, Eagles, Sordell (K Davies 85).
Referee: Kevin Friend.