Substitute Ivan Klasnic had pulled the home side level with a firm header three minutes from time following a superb cross from Rodrigo Moreno, who had also stepped off the bench.
Bruce said: "We needed a bit of luck. We had a dreadful run of results recently. But Bolton has been a decent ground for me.
"I won my first game for Sunderland here and ended a miserable run of results at the Reebok last season and now this.
"It is good to be safe now. That was the one thing we had to address when I arrived. The year I came here we stayed up on goal difference.
"We had to stop being a yo-yo club. We have had four years in the Premier League now and the next step is the most difficult one. That is trying to take the club forward and getting into the top 10."
Bruce added: "I wish Bolo Zenden was 25. You can see he gave us the experience we needed.
"You don't play for years at top clubs like Liverpool and Marseille without being a decent player."