Ivan Klasnic was yet again the match-winner for Bolton Wanderers emerging from the bench as a second-half substitute to complete a remarkable showing of resilience and potency in front of goal to win an enthralling game.
Gary Cahill had twice scored against his former club from Stuart Holden and Martin Petrov corners to twice level the scores following goals from Darren Bent and Marc Albrighton.
Cahill's second equaliser midway through the second period set the stage for Klasnic to pivot and smash home a late winner with just minutes on the clock to seal all three points and with it sixth place in the Barclays Premier League table.
Manager Owen Coyle made just the one change to the side with Gretar Steinsson returning to the starting line-up for the first time since January in place of Marcos Alonso. As a result of the Icelander's return, Paul Robinson was shifted back to his more familiar role of left-back.
Prior to the game all the talk was of Wanderers striker Daniel Sturridge who had enjoyed a prolific run of form in front of goal, however another notable English striker in Villa's Darren Bent should have arguably opened the scoring just four minutes in.
The £18million January signing from Sunderland was played through by skipper Ashley Young and when seemingly having all the time in the world, Bent's touch as he attempted to round Jussi Jaaskelainen disappointed allowing enough time for Gary Cahill to intervene.
It was an early wake up call for the Whites, as the visitors weaved pretty patterns in the midfield areas but a strong defensive rearguard marshalled by Cahill, coming up against his former club, and David Wheater thwarted numerous attacks.
However Villa persisted and with the Wanderers central defensive pairing looking solid opted for a different option and it soon paid off. Kyle Walker, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, raided down the right flank and sailed past a couple of Wanderers challenges to reach the byline, before fizzing across the face of goal leaving Bent with the simplest of finishes from close range.
Wanderers needed to rally and despite much huffing and puffing in the final third were largely frustrated. Instead Villa continued to look dangerous coming forward. Albrighton crossed from the right before Wheater's headed clearance cannoned back towards goal off Bent's face and into the frame of the goal.
Brad Friedel in the visitor's goal was largely untroubled in the first 45 minutes. Sturridge had Wanderers' best chance on the half hour mark stretching to head goalwards a Kevin Davies cross but the on loan Chelsea man's effort sailed narrowly wide.
Just as it seemed Wanderers would have to regroup at half-time they were suddenly back on level terms just seconds before the interval. Out of nowhere and arguably against the run of play Cahill got in front of his marker from a Petrov corner to glance into the far corner of the net.
However that goal did anything but deter Villa's forward-thinking approach and they began the second period in a similar manner as they had the first. Young continued to pull the strings in behind Bent he looped a ball over the defence into the striker's path who was denied by a reflex save from Jaaskelainen.
Wanderers were also looking lively in the final third. Sturridge danced his way around a number of Villa defenders on the edge of the area before sending a header from a Steinsson cross narrowly wide.
Both sides continued to adopt a gung-ho approach to the game and as Stuart Downing smashed his attempt from the back post wide following a teasing Albrighton cross one sensed that it was only to be a matter of time before the net bulged again.
Albrighton continued to cause problems and his cross from the right found Downing who headed into Bent's path and with the goal gaping only Wheater's right boot and a sprawling Jaaskelainen save prevented Villa from retaking the lead.
Coyle shuffled his pack in an attempt to halt the waves of Villa attacks introducing Chung-Yong Lee and Mark Davies in place of Petrov and Fabrice Muamba.
However Villa's bravery was admirable and they did eventually retake the lead just after the hour mark. Downing, who had switched to the right side, floated a ball to the back post which was hit into the floor by the arriving Albrighton and into the net.
Immediately Coyle sprung from his seat in the dugout area to call back Klasnic from his warm-up and threw the Croatian on in place of Johan Elmander.
Villa continued to throw men forward and suddenly were gifted the chance to add to their tally from the penalty spot. Young, who had arguably been the best player on the pitch all afternoon, danced around Wheater before the defender hauled the frontman down. There were few complaints from Wanderers, as referee Kevin Friend dished out yellow cards to both Wheater and Steinsson for their frustrated protests.
However Wanderers were granted a lifeline as Jaaskelainen flung himself to his right to beat away the kick from Young himself.
And in a truly remarkable turn of events Villa were left kicking themselves when of course Wanderers gathered a head of steam and found yet another equaliser from another corner kick.
Holden whipped an outswinger into the Villa danger zone that Cahill headed goalwards only to be denied by a reflex stop from Friedel but the Amercian could only parry into the path of the defender who lashed into the roof of the net to double his tally for the afternoon.
The momentum was now with the home side and Wanderers looked anything but happy to settle for a point. Such was Wanderers' commitment to snatch all three points Wheater found himself in the penalty area causing all kinds of problems as the home side mustered up a late winner.
Coyle's men rolled the dice and their numbers came up when Wheater diverted a long ball into Klasnic's path who expertly swivelled on the spot to hammer the ball home sending the home fans into raptures.
It may have been harsh on the visitors but Wanderers had shown their cutting edge to claim a remarkable three points. Such was the timing of Klasnic's strike Villa were left stunned and with no time to reply the referee called time on a truly gripping game.
Wanderers: Jaaskelainen, Steinsson, Wheater, Cahill, Robinson, Elmander (Klasnic 67), Muamba (M Davies 60), Holden, Petrov (Chung-Yong 60), Sturridge, K Davies (Unused substitutes: Bogdan, Alonso, Taylor, Rodrigo)
Aston Villa: Friedel, L Young, Clark, Baker, Walker, Downing, Delph (Petrov 79), Reo-Coker, Albrighton (Agbonlahor 84), A Young, Bent (Unused substitutes: Marshall, Herd, Bradley, Pires, Heskey)