Even so, this was hardly a breather for the Chicago Bears.
Hester had earlier set up a touchdown run by Forte with a 73-yard kickoff return before he ran back a punt 69 yards in the second quarter to move ahead of Eric Metcalf on the all-time list. He performed three somersaults in the end zone with the lead at 24-10, but the celebration was a little early.
The Panthers (1-3) cut the lead to four points at halftime and had their chances to take the lead in the second half but came up short, spoiling coach Ron Rivera's return to Soldier Field while wasting another big performance by Newton.
The rookie threw for 374 yards and Carolina wound up with 543 total yards. Steve Smith passed Muhsin Muhammad as Carolina's all-time leading receiver, finishing with 181 yards on eight catches. He needed 23 to set the record and now has 9,414 in his career, but a few key plays helped preserve a wild win for the Bears.
He also missed a 52-yard attempt after Charles Godfrey intercepted Jay Cutler at the Chicago 38 right after that, and the Bears' Robbie Gould made it 27-23 when he nailed a 24-yarder with 6:41 remaining.
The Bears (2-2) added to their lead in the closing minutes, when Forte broke off a 40-yard run and Marion Barber took it in from the 3, sealing the win after back-to-back losses to New Orleans and Green Bay.
Forte easily broke his previous career high of 166 yards last year against Carolina and shook off a brutal performance last week, when he managed 2 yards on nine attempts.
He and Hester lifted Chicago on a day when Cutler threw for 102 yards and the defense couldn't contain the Panthers.