The London, Ont., native finished in a time of one minute, 58.07 seconds in the women's 1,500 metres to finish third.
Kali Christ of Regina was fifth, crossing in 1:58.69.
The Dutch occupied the rest of the top 5. Ireen Wust won gold for the second consecutive day, adding to the 3,000 title she won Thursday by clocking in over two seconds faster than the rest of the field at 1:55.38.
Lotte van Beek finished second at Adler Arena in 1:58.02.
"I was surprised to come away with a bronze medal. It wasn't the greatest race of my life," said Nesbitt, who was paired with Wust. "I felt like I was lacking snap. I felt like a slug, for lack of better term. At no point in my race was I really feeling explosive and powerful and dynamic in my movements.
Nesbitt will try for another top three finish in Saturday's 1,000.
Christ improved from an eighth place finish last year at the worlds.
"I had a strong opener, [my] fastest first lap ever," she said. "Usually I'm a little bit stronger in the second lap, but I fell apart a little bit on one of the corners and couldn't get that lap back."
Winnipeg's Brittany Schussler finished eighth.
Denis Kuzin won his first major gold medal by taking the men's 1,000 metres.
The Kazakhstan skater finished in 1:09.14 to edge out Olympic 500 champion Mo Tae-bum of South Korea by one-tenth of a second. Olympic 1,000 champ Shani Davis of the United States was third, six-hundredths of a second behind Mo.
Mo, the Olympic 1,000 silver medallist, led at the 600-meter mark followed by Davis, the three-time world champ at the distance. But Kuzin blazed the fastest time of 26.6 seconds for the last 400 metres.
Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., was 13th, one spot ahead of teammate Jamie Gregg of Edmonton. Tyler Derraugh of Winnipeg was 18th in his first world championship appearance.
Toronto's Jordan Belchos was 17th in the men's 5,000 in a time of 6:36.22. Sven Kramer and Jorrit Bergsma of the Netherlands were 1-2, followed by Ivan Skobrev of Russia.