Forward osmosis (FO) has demonstrated its merits in hybrid FO seawater desalination. However, FO may have a potential for other applications if suitable draw solutes are available. In this study, a series of novel draw solutes based on oxalic acid (OA)-transitional metal complexes are presented. Influential factors of FO performance have been systematically investigated by varying the transitional metals, cations of the complex draw solutes as well as the experimental conditions. Compared to NaCl and other recently synthesized draw solutes, the OA complexes show superior FO performance in terms of high water fluxes up to 27.5 and 89.1 LMH under the respective FO and PRO (pressure retarded osmosis) modes, both with negligible reverse solute fluxes. The features of octahedral geometry, abundant hydrophilic groups and ionic species are crucial for the OA complexes as appropriate draw solutes with satisfactory FO performance. Among the synthesized OA complexes, the ammonium salt of chromic complex (NH4-Cr-OA) outperforms others due to the presence of more ionic species in its complex system. NH4-Cr-OA also performs better than the typical NaCl draw solute in FO oily wastewater treatment with higher water recovery and negligible reverse fluxes. Dilute solutions of OA complexes have been reconcentrated through membrane distillation (MD) and reused to new round of FO processes. The OA complexes have demonstrated their suitability and superiority as a novel class of draw solutes for the FO process in this study.