The defender has seen his season heavily disrupted by fitness issues, with the 25-year-old suffering another ankle injury in a friendly last month shortly after returning from a similar problem that had kept him out since November.
But the Germany international proved hugely influential in just his second Bundesliga start in four months, breaking the deadlock from close range six minutes after the break.
Robert Lewandowski powered home from just outside the penalty area 13 minutes later to make sure of the points, before Henrikh Mkhitaryan added a third in the closing stages as Dortmund returned to winning ways domestically after a disappointing 3-0 defeat at Hamburg last time out.
The result lifts Dortmund to second, thanks to Bayer Leverkusen's home defeat to Mainz, and represents just Nurnberg's second loss in their last nine top-flight matches.
Hummels gave Jurgen Klopp a welcome boost as he slotted into Dortmund's 14th different back-four combination of the season, and the hosts could have been ahead inside the opening four minutes.
Lewandowski threaded the ball through for Mkhitaryan, but Raphael Schafer rushed off his line to gather at the Armenian's feet.
Dortmund continued to press, with Lukasz Piszczek powering wide of the right-hand post moments later, before a Nurnberg backpass presented them with another chance to go ahead.
However, from the resulting indirect free-kick, Lewandowski failed to find a way past the wall of red shirts on the visitors' goal-line.
For all their possession and chances, Dortmund were lacking in killer instinct as Nurnberg soaked up everything that was thrown at them.
And they were almost punished on the half-hour mark, when Josip Drmic pounced on a loose Sokratis pass to tee up Tomas Pekhart, who fired an effort against the post.
Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang then had an effort deflected over shortly before the interval as the sides went in goalless at half-time.
Klopp's team finally made their pressure pay in the 51st minute, though, as the returning Hummels tapped home the rebound after Schafer had parried a powerful Lewandowski header.
And it should have been 2-0 four minutes later, when Mkhitaryan had an effort superbly pushed wide of the left-hand upright, before having a goal ruled out for offside just before the hour mark.
But Lewandowski found himself in space 20 yards out in 64th minute, and put the result beyond doubt with a low drive into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Mkhitaryan and Schafer were locked in a fascinating battle throughout, and the midfielder finally got the better of the visiting goalkeeper seven minutes from time, sliding home after a delightful through pass from substitute Jonas Hofmann.
- Sports & Recreation
- Robert Lewandowski
- Mats Hummels
- Henrikh Mkhitaryan