The town was founded at the end of the 16th century by Jan Zamoyski as Jelitowo. It is known by its current name since 1613 when it was renamed after Zamoyski's son, Tomasz. It obtained its city charter in 1621. The area around the city saw serious fighting in 1914 during World War I. Throughout its history the town had a significant Jewish community, which numbered over 5,000 in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II, making up half its population. The town was bombed and found itself under the German occupation following the invasion of Poland in 1939. In the course of the Holocaust, the Nazi Germans first placed the Jews in a ghetto established in the town, then exterminated them in 1942 at Belzec death camp located a few kilometers south of the town.
In the town there are two faculties of Catholic University of Lublin (Legal and Economic Sciences). It has two high schools (Bartosz Głowacki High School and Władysław Sikorski High School), three technical colleges, two gymnasiums and two primary schools.
There are two main newspapers published weekly in Tomaszów Lubelski. First of them, ReWizje Tomaszowskie, is financed by the town council. Second of them, Tygodnik Tomaszowski, belongs to a private company.