He was born in the early years of the caliphate of Uthman in Medina and lived through the civil war which occurred after Uthman's martyrdom. Although his brother Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr wrested the rule from Abd al-Malik, it is unknown if he assisted him. He devoted himself to the study of fiqh and hadith and had the greatest knowledge of hadiths narrated from Aishah. He said, "Before Aishah died, I saw that I had become one of four authorities. I said, 'If she dies, there will be no hadith which will be lost from those she knows. I have memorized all of them."
Urwah wrote many books but, fearing they might become sources of authority alongside the Qur'an, destroyed them the day of the Battle of al-Harrah. He later regretted that, saying "I would rather have them in my possession than my family and property twice over."
He is also known to have written one of the first writings in the area of the biography of Muhammad, known as the Tract of Seerah. This is not extant either but is known through Ibn Ishaq.
Alfred Guillaume writes: [Among precursors of Ibn Ishaq’s Sira] A man of much greater importance was 'Urwa b. al-Zubayr b. al- 'Awwam (23-94). He and his brother 'Abdullah were in close contact with the prophet’s widow [and their aunt] 'A’isha. He was a recognized authority on the early history of Islam, and the Umayyad caliph 'Abdu’l-Malik applied to him when he needed information on that subject. Again, it is uncertain whether he wrote a book, but the many traditions that are handed down in his name by Ibn Ishaq and other writers justify the assertion that he was the founder of Islamic history.