The home side went ahead inside eight minutes when Sebastian Larsson knocked home a rebound from close range after Latics keeper Ali Al Habsi fumbled Nicklas Bendtner's initial attempt from outside the area before following up with a courageous effort to deny Kieran Richardson but the Swede was on the hand to knock it home to give the Black Cats the lead.
Al Habsi made a vital save just after the half-hour mark from John O'Shea's glancing header from the front post before Larsson was adjudged to have brought down Victor Moses in the area with referee Kevin Friend pointing to the spot.
Jordi Gomez stepped up and sent Keiren Westwood the wrong way to equalise for the Latics who then went ahead in injury time when O'Shea made a blunder in defence with James McArthur squaring it up for Franco di Santo who slotted it into the back of the net to give Roberto Martinez a crucial three points.
Sunderland have now produced just one win in their last eight outings and have two home victories from their last 15 at the Stadium of Light to sit 16th whilst Wigan saluted for the first time in ten matches to jump above Bolton into 18th.
TRIBAL ASKS: As asked previously, is Steve Bruce's job safe at Sunderland?