Pierce Sweeney headed a stoppage-time winner to earn play-off hopefuls Exeter a 2-1 victory and leave Bolton with work still to do to clinch automatic promotion in the final game of the season.
The City defender climbed highest to glance home Jack Sparkes’ free-kick to keep alive the Devon side’s hopes of making the top seven.
Third-placed Wanderers needed a victory to book a quick return to League One so when Gethin Jones scored his third goal of the season after 15 minutes, the Trotters looked to be on their way.
Hundreds of Bolton fans outside the ground, ignoring club advice to stay away from the University of Bolton Stadium, thought so too, letting off fireworks in celebration.
But Exeter proved determined opposition with captain Jake Taylor and defender Sweeney peppering the home goal before half-time.
And when Randell Williams fired in a 49th-minute leveller for a fourth goal of the season, the promotion picture swung again.
Bolton’s leading scorer Eoin Doyle headed over while Grecians striker Matt Jay chipped a great chance into the side-netting after 67 minutes.
Bolton brought on four substitutes and Exeter five replacements before Sweeney’s goal five minutes into stoppage time settled a see-saw contest.