Recently, a proposal to obtain a finite contribution of second derivative order to the gravitational field equations in D =4 dimensions from a renormalized Gauss-Bonnet term in the action has received a wave of attention. It triggered a discussion whether the employed renormalization procedure yields a well-defined theory. One of the main criticisms is based on the fact that the resulting field equations cannot be obtained as the Euler-Lagrange equations from a diffeomorphism invariant action. In this work, we use techniques from the inverse calculus of variations to point out that the renormalized truncated Gauss-Bonnet equations cannot be obtained from any action at all (either diffeomorphism invariant or not), in any dimension. Then, we employ canonical variational completion, based on the notion of Vainberg-Tonti Lagrangian—which consists in adding a canonically defined correction term to a given system of equations, so as to make them derivable from an action. To apply this technique to the suggested 4D renormalized Gauss-Bonnet equations, we extend the variational completion algorithm to some classes of PDE systems for which the usual integral providing the Vainberg-Tonti Lagrangian diverges. We discover that in D >4 the suggested field equations can be variationally completed, choosing either the metric or its inverse as field variables; both approaches yield consistently the same Lagrangian, whose variation leads to fourth-order field equations. In D =4 , the Lagrangian of the variationally completed theory diverges in both cases.