Polyamide (PA) semipermeable membranes typically used for reverse osmosis water treatment processes are prone to fouling, which reduces the amount and quality of water produced. By synergistically coupling the photothermal and bactericidal properties of graphene oxide (GO) nanosheets, gold nanostars (AuNS), and hydrophilic polyethylene glycol (PEG) on PA reverse osmosis membrane surfaces, we have dramatically improved fouling resistance of these membranes. Batch fouling experiments from three classes of fouling are presented: mineral scaling (CaCO3 and CaSO4), organic fouling (humic acid), and biofouling (Escherichia coli). Systematic analyses and a variety of complementary techniques were used to elucidate fouling resistance mechanisms from each layer of modification on the membrane surface. Both mineral scaling and organic fouling were significantly reduced in PA-GO-AuNS-PEG membranes compared to other membranes. The PA-GO-AuNS-PEG membrane was also effective in killing all near-surface bacteria compared to PA membranes. In the PA-GO-AuNS-PEG membrane, the GO nanosheets act as templates for in situ AuNS growth, which then facilitated localized heating upon irradiation by an 808 nm laser inactivating bacteria on the membrane surface. Furthermore, AuNS in the membrane assisted PEG in preventing mineral scaling on the membrane surface. In flow-through flux and foulant rejection tests, PA-GO-AuNS-PEG membranes performed better than PA membranes in the presence of CaSO4 and humic acid model foulants. Therefore, the newly suggested membrane surface modifications will not only reduce fouling from RO feeds, but can improve overall membrane performance. Our innovative membrane design reported in this study can significantly extend the lifetime and water treatment efficacy of reverse osmosis membranes to alleviate escalating global water shortage from rising energy demands.