Background: Positive fluid balance and tissue fluid accumulation are associated with adverse outcomes in sepsis. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) increases in sepsis, promotes vascular permeability, and may affect tissue fluid accumulation and oxygenation. We used near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to estimate tissue hemoglobin (Hb) oxygenation and water (H2O) levels to investigate their relationship with serum VEGF levels. Material and methods: New-onset severe sepsis patients admitted to the intensive care unit were enrolled. Relative tissue concentrations of oxy-Hb ([HbO2]), deoxy-Hb ([HbR]), total Hb ([HbT]), and H2O ([H2O]) were estimated by near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) for three consecutive days and serum VEGF levels were measured. Comparisons between oliguric and non-oliguric patients were conducted and the correlations between variables were analyzed. Results: Among 75 eligible patients, compared with non-oliguric patients, oliguric patients were administrated more intravascular fluids (median [IQR], 1926.00 [1348.50–3092.00] mL/day vs. 1069.00 [722.00–1486.75] mL/day, p < 0.001) and had more positive daily net intake and output (mean [SD], 1,235.06 [1303.14] mL/day vs. 313.17 [744.75] mL/day, p = 0.012), lower [HbO2] and [HbT] over the three-day measurement (analyzed by GEE p = 0.01 and 0.043, respectively) and significantly higher [H2O] on the third day than on the first two days (analyzed by GEE p = 0.034 and 0.018, respectively). Overall, serum VEGF levels were significantly negatively correlated with [HbO2] and [HbT] (rho = − 0.246 and − 0.266, p = 0.042 and 0.027, respectively) but positively correlated with [H2O] (rho = 0.449, p < 0.001). Subgroup analysis revealed a significant correlation between serum VEGF and [H2O] in oliguric patients (rho = 0.532, p = 0.003). Multiple regression analysis determined the independent effect of serum VEGF on [H2O] (standardized coefficient = 0.281, p = 0.038). Conclusions: In severe sepsis, oliguria relates to higher positive fluid balance, lower tissue perfusion and oxygenation, and progressive tissue fluid accumulation. Elevated serum VEGF is associated with worsening tissue perfusion and oxygenation and independently affects tissue fluid accumulation.