Burton could have been in front in the seventh minute only to find themselves trailing three minutes later.
Home midfielder Jacques Maghoma was denied by Michael Ingham's reaction save before McLaughlin struck from close range to punish some untidy work by the Burton defence.
Burton were back on level terms in the 23rd minute when Bell's 30-yard shot took a big deflection off York defender Clarke Carlisle to leave Ingham wrong-footed.
Burton broke the stalemate to go in front in the 65th minute. Ingham did well to keep out a low drive from Robbie Weir but was helpless to prevent Zola from bundling home the loose ball.
Paterson sealed a third successive victory with a cheeky lob over Ingham in the first minute of added time.