Diabetic nephropathy (DN) is a serious complication of diabetes mellitus (DM), which is a major public health problem in the world. To reveal the metabolic changes associated with DN, we analyzed the serum, urine, and renal extracts obtained from control and streptozotocin (STZ)-induced DN rats by (1)H NMR-based metabonomics and multivariate data analysis. A significant difference between control and DN rats was revealed in metabolic profiles, and we identified several important DN-related metabolites including increased levels of allantoin and uric acid (UA) in the DN rats, suggesting that disturbed purine metabolism may be involved in the DN. Combined with conventional histological and biological methods, we further demonstrated that xanthine oxidase (XO), a key enzyme for purine catabolism, was abnormally activated in the kidney of diabetic rats by hyperglycemia. The highly activated XO increased the level of intracellular ROS, which caused renal injury by direct oxidative damage to renal cells, and indirect inducing inflammatory responses via activating NF-κB signaling pathway. Our study highlighted that metabonomics is a promising tool to reveal the metabolic changes and the underlying mechanism involved in the pathogenesis of DN.