The Ivorians now lie second, three points behind the already-qualified Albiceleste and two in front of both the Serbs and Australia, a victory over whom would now guarantee Gerard Gili's side a place in the last eight.
In an open, end-to-end match full of attacking enterprise, the Elephants raced into an early lead, the lively Gervinho embarking on a fourth-minute run that ended in him setting up Sekou Cisse for the Roda star's second goal at Beijing 2008.
Serbia remained dangerous, however, and within 11 minutes they were level, Miljan Mrdakovic finishing brilliantly following a delightful pass from Alexsandar Zivkovic.
The crowd were loving every minute, and they had another goal to cheer just 10 minutes later when the unfortunate Slobodan Rajkovic headed through his own goal from an Ivorian corner.
Re-establishing their lead appeared to relax the Ivorians in the second half and, after Kalou had struck the crossbar with a fine effort, the Chelsea striker finally scored his first Olympic goal. It came with 20 minutes remaining, a neat combination with Gervinho providing Kalou with the opening to fire home a right-footed shot.
That, we all assumed, was that, but then in the last minute of normal time, Djorde Rakic popped up to spark a dramatic finish with a well-placed header.
Any doubt over the outcome was removed for good, however, when Gervinho struck deep into injury time to edge Côte d'Ivoire to within one more victory of a place in the quarter-finals. Serbia, meanwhile, must now beat Argentina to have any hope of advancing to the last eight.