The Blues looked every inch a side that had failed to win any of their previous five games in another dire first half against the Trotters at Stamford Bridge.
But they turned on the style after the break, defender David Luiz doing what he does best by firing them ahead before Didier Drogba and the recalled Frank Lampard sealed a desperately-needed three points.
Chelsea also hit the woodwork twice as Bolton’s first-half solidity deserted them to leave them second bottom of the table.
Villas-Boas recalled Lampard, Ashley Cole and Michael Essien, who were controversially left out of Tuesday night’s Champions League defeat at Napoli, sparking further reports of dressing-room unrest.
The Chelsea boss stood by his Naples line-up, insisting it was picked purely on footballing reasons, but he admitted on Thursday he was forced to explain it to owner Abramovich.
That merely fuelled speculation Villas-Boas was on borrowed time at Stamford Bridge, with the club’s season in danger of unravelling completely.
But today’s opponents might have been hand picked for the home side, with Bolton enduring an even more miserable campaign.
Chelsea certainly made the more impressive start, Daniel Sturridge testing Adam Bogdan inside five minutes after a burst from the halfway line before finding Lampard with a superb through ball, the midfielder just failing to shake off his marker.
Drogba also had a couple of sniffs but the lack of confidence that has dogged the Blues’ play of late was soon evident as they struggled to fashion a meaningful opportunity.
Abramovich, attending his first game since the 3-3 draw against Manchester United three weeks earlier, looked on pensively as well-drilled Bolton continued to frustrate his expensively-assembled side.
They finally had Bogdan at full stretch in the 29th minute when he palmed away Drogba’s left-foot curler, while David Wheater had to be alert to stop Sturridge finishing Luiz’s raking pass.
Chelsea were only really looking dangerous on the break and their half was summed up when Branislav Ivanovic and Drogba ran into each other running onto Lampard’s inviting ball.
Bolton were even less of a threat and Darren Pratley – making his first league start for more than two months – was booked for an obvious dive trying to win a penalty before Ryo Miyaichi had their first real effort when he fired over on the stroke of half-time.
Chelsea were in dire need of inspiration and it arrived less than three minutes after the restart.
Luiz – clearly under orders to rampage forward – won the ball high up the pitch, carried on his run forward and profited when Wheater failed to clear, curling a lovely finish beyond Bogdan.
The celebrations were hardly raucous, with the nervousness of a side that had kept only two clean sheets at home in the league all season quickly apparent when Nigel Reo-Coker drilled wide from the edge of the box.
That almost subsided when Chelsea then hit the woodwork twice inside two minutes, Luiz’s header from a corner glancing the post before Drogba curled Juan Mata’s pass against the top of the crossbar after another breakaway.
There was no stopping the striker in the 61st minute when he shook off Fabrice Muamba to nod in Lampard’s corner, the midfielder significantly taking the plaudits as the home fans sang “super Frankie Lampard”.
It should have been 3-0 when Ivanovic finished weakly after Essien’s drive was parried by Bogdan before Bolton threw on Marvin Sordell for David Ngog.
The change had little effect and Chris Eagles soon joined Sordell, with Tuncay Sanli coming off, before Chelsea suffered a blow when Drogba limped off to be replaced by Fernando Torres for the last 14 minutes.
A goal arrived three minutes later, but it was Lampard who got it, stealing in at the back post to cushion Mata’s cross past Bogdan for his 12th goal of the season.
Sturridge then came off for Salomon Kalou, Torres – axed by Spain yesterday – curled over from a tight angle with his only chance and John Obi Mikel replaced Ramires.
Kalou almost nodded in number four in stoppage-time as Chelsea enjoyed a rare trouble-free final 10 minutes.