Premier League - Scholes rolls back the years for United
The 37-year-old netted his first league goal since August 2010 - his 151st in all - after starting for Sir Alex Ferguson's side who went level on points with leaders Manchester City.
United's success in luring Scholes out of retirement has been depicted in some quarters as an indictment of the options previously at Ferguson's disposal, but the midfielder demonstrated class is permanent with an influential performance, capped by the opening goal of the game on the stroke of half-time.
Wayne Rooney had already seen a penalty expertly saved by Adam Bogdan before Scholes emulated Thierry Henry's goalscoring return to Arsenal, and Rooney was left frustrated again in the second half when being guilty of a glaring miss from close range.
However, it was the striker who had teed up Scholes and he collected a second assist on 74 minutes when playing in Danny Welbeck, who sustained an injury when claiming his fifth league goal of the season.
There was still time for Michael Carrick to claim a sumptuous third, passing the pass home with his left foot from 20 yards, as United moved alongside City at the top of the table having played a game more than their rivals. Tottenham failed to do likewise when drawing at home to Wolves.
Having made an unlikely return to professional football as a substitute in the FA Cup win over Manchester City last weekend, Scholes was deployed alongside Carrick in midfield from the start against Bolton as Ferguson sent out his team in a conventional yet rather rare 4-4-2 formation.
Rooney, scorer of two goals against City, played off Welbeck in attack and instigated a good move that produced United's first chance of the game when dropping deep, holding onto the ball and then feeding Nani on the left. With Gretar Steinsson inexplicably standing off, Nani steadied himself before curling an effort wide of the far post.
Perhaps inspired by the presence of Scholes alongside him, Carrick created United's next opening with a pass worthy of the old master himself, prising the Bolton defence apart with a great ball to find Welbeck, who saw his firm effort palmed away by Bogdan.
Scholes was seeing plenty of the ball but also demonstrated he has not lost the rather less admirable recklessness that pock-marked his previous career when swinging his boot into the midriff of Bolton midfielder Mark Davies, though he avoided a booking.
Against a Bolton defence shorn of Gary Cahill, who was in London watching his new club Chelsea, Rooney and Welbeck enjoyed plenty of chances and the former saw a header cleared off the line by Davies as he rose highest to meet a corner from the right.
However, Rooney was guilty of spurning the best chance of the half when seeing his penalty saved after 22 minutes. Zat Knight tripped Welbeck from behind and was fortunate to see a yellow card instead of a red, before Bolton were let off the hook when Bogdan produced a fantastic diving save to tip Rooney's penalty wide.
The Hungarian has not always looked very accomplished when stepping in for the absent Jussi Jaaskelainen but enjoyed the first half at Old Trafford as he made a succession of saves to deny both Rooney and Welbeck.
However, his resistance was broken as injury-time approached. Nani saw a cross blocked by the sliding David Wheater and the ball rolled kindly into the path of Rooney. Welbeck tried and failed to flick his square pass across the face of goal but Scholes was waiting at the back post to turn the ball home.
The midfielder did not look like his 37 years when continuing to be a tenacious and confident presence in the second half, but for Rooney the frustration continued when he was guilty of a quite glaring miss on 62 minutes.
Antonio Valencia did superbly to dart into space in the box and produced the perfect cross for Rooney at the back post. With Bogdan stationed on the opposite side of the goal, the striker had only to tap home but somehow contrived to send his shot into the side netting.
United could have done with the safety net of a second as on 69 minutes they almost conceded, firmly against the run of play. Steinsson came to the near post to meet a corner from Petrov with a header that looped into the air and forced the attentive Rafael to clear off the line.
After 74 minutes they did have a measure of comfort to enjoy as Welbeck added a second. Rooney managed to squeeze a pass to his strike partner when being knocked to ground and Welbeck did well to extend his leg and turn the ball past Bogdan. However, he was clattered by Sam Ricketts in the process and the injury forced him off to be replaced by Javier Hernandez.
Chicharito looked lively when turning the ball wide on the volley on 90 minutes, but not before Carrick had widened the margin of victory. Substitute Giggs squared for the midfielder and Carrick shifted the ball to his left 25 yards from goal before curling a fantastic shot in with his left instep.
With Scholes on the scoresheet and United back at the top of the table it was an afternoon with a distinctly nostalgic flavour to it.