He hailed from Nanyang 南陽 (modern Nanyang, Henan) and became clerk for the Chamberlain for Law Enforcement (tingweishi 廷尉史), Zhang Tang in 109 BCE. Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE) highly esteemed him and soon promoted him to palace aid to the Censor-in-chief (yushi zhongcheng 御史中丞). He oversaw law cases according to personal order of the Emperor and not according to the law. Du Zhou had arrested thousands of persons on vain charges.
In 99 he was transferred to the post of Chamberlain for the Imperial Insignia (zhijinwu 執金吾). A year later, after he had arrested and executed the regents Sang Hongyang 桑弘羊 and Shangguan Jie 上官桀, he was appointed Censor-in-chief (yushi dafu 御史大夫).
Du Zhou is known as the most cruel official of the Former Han period. His sons and grandsons all served in high positions and amassed a fortune.