Highly oriented arrays of C, N, and S surface functionalized/surface doped ZnO Nanorods (NRs) were fabricated by a simple chemical bath deposition followed by wet chemical method. Surface functionalization significantly improved both the photocurrent and photostability of the ZnO NRs electrodes under visible-light irradiation along with the reduction in onset potential for water oxidation. The C-ZnO, N-ZnO, and S-ZnO NRs photoanodes exhibited 6.5, 5.5, and 3 times increase in photoelectrochemical water oxidation efficiency, respectively, as compared to that measured for pure ZnO NRs under visible-light illumination (10 mW.cm(-2), wavelength >420 nm, 0.5 M Na2SO4). Surface engineered ZnO NRs also exhibited enhanced visible light harvesting efficiency and significantly quenched electron-hole recombination leading to greatly enhanced carrier separation. Surface doping remarkably tuned the electronic structure of the photoanodes changing the band position and band bending at electrode-electrolyte interface leading to low electrical resistance and fast charge transportation of the device boosting the PEC property. The study demonstrated that the surface functionalization could be a facile and general approach for oxide semiconductors to achieve an effective solution for high performance solar light-driven water splitting.