The Black Cats led from the ninth minute after Steven Fletcher scored his fourth goal in three appearances for his new club when he beautifully controlled Seb Larsson's floating ball before firing home past Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Minutes before half-time, the Hammers were close to restoring parity when Nolan's acrobatic side-volley from Ricardo Vaz Te's cross from the right was brilliantly kept out by an equally athletic Simon Mignolet in Sunderland goal.
Sam Allardyce's side dominated play in the second half as Martin O'Neill's continually sat deeper and again came close with 15 minutes remaining when James Collins' header from a corner skimmed off the top of the crossbar.
Thankfully for the East Londoners, who had 11 shots on goal, Nolan gave them a share of the points when he turned to rifle home Modibo Maiga's header in the 93rd minute after Matt Jarvis had done well to keep the ball in play by screwing over his head from the byline.
The draw allowed West Ham to remain eighth on the table with their eighth point of the campaign as Sunderland shifted up to 12th with a fourth draw from four outings.
Upton Park, London - 33,052