The Reds took the lead early on as Tyler Walker's superb cross was converted by winger Barrie McKay. However, Phil Parkinson's side responded well to going behind and dominated the remainder of the first-half and got a deserved equaliser just before half-time through Will Buckley.
It was also the away side that made the better start to proceedings in the second-half but they were left to rue their missed opportunities as Joe Worrall put Forest back in front on the hour mark.
Ben Brereton then looked to have made the game safe for the home side as he converted in the last minute of normal time but Worrall's own-goal in injury time set-up a nervy final few minutes at The City Ground.
Forest lucky to go into half-time on level terms
Mark Warburton made the decision to bring both Barrie McKay and Matt Mills back into the starting line-up for this one as David Vaughan and Armand Traore were left out of the squad completely. This saw Mills partner Worrall in the centre of defence with Michael Mancienne right-back and Eric Lichaj at left-back.
After two consecutive defeats to Cardiff City and Ipswich Town, Forest made the perfect start to this match as they took the lead after just three minutes. Walker went on a rampaging run down the right-hand side before putting a superb cross into the area which allowed McKay to tap home and put the Reds 1-0 up.
It was a bright start to the game from the home side and they did have a couple of other chances to extend their lead. Lichaj could only hit the side netting after some neat build-up play with McKay and Mills also had a good chance from a corner but could not direct his header on target.
Despite taking an early lead, Forest struggled to get a real foothold in the game and the away side were enjoying long spells of possession and were causing a few problems. Sammy Ameobi and Gary Madine looked particularly lively for the Trotters as they searched for their first away win of the campaign.
Forest's best chance to extend their advantage in the first-half fell to Walker. He was able to turn inside the area to create room for a shot but his effort was well kept out by Ben Alnwick.
The Reds were made to pay for this missed opportunity soon after as Josh Vela's cross to the back post was headed into the back of the net by Buckley to make it 1-1 on the stroke of half-time. It was a poor goal from a defensive point of view for Forest to concede but it was a much-deserved equaliser for the away side.
Brereton scores his first of the season to win the game for the Reds
Bolton started the second-half in a similar fashion to how they ended the first, dominating the ball and causing Forest's defence a lot of problems. Vela had a superb chance to put his side ahead but could only head over the bar from close range. It was a huge let off for Forest who had started the second-half very poorly.
Remarkably, despite being under pressure for long periods at the start of the second-half, Forest found themselves back in front on the hour mark. Walker put another great ball into the area before it was cleared straight to the feet of Worrall who volleyed home into the bottom corner of the net to make it 2-1. It was Worrall's first goal for Forest and it was a vitally important one for his side.
Warburton decided to bring Mustapha Carayol, Andreas Bouchalakis and Ben Brereton on during the second-half and all three made a positive impact for the home side. Walker had a chance to round-off a superb display with a goal of his own after two crunching tackles from Liam Bridcutt but his effort went just wide of the target.
Forest looked to have made sure of the points in the final minute of normal time as they managed to grab a third. Brereton was played through on goal and his pace took him away from the Trotters' defence before he calmly slotted home into the back of the net to make it 3-1.
However, this was not the end of the action as the away side were able to pull one back in the second minute of injury time to set-up a nervy finale. Aaron Wilbraham's strike deflected in off Worrall to reduce the deficit to just one goal. Despite this, Warburton's side were able to hang-on for the remainder of injury time to claim a valuable three points.