Aqueous-phase surface modification of nanocellulose is desirable because nanocellulose is generally produced via water-based fibrillation. In this study, a hydrogen bond–induced surface modification of cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) in water was developed. Tannic acid and polyvinylpyrrolidone were chosen to modify the CNFs because of their strong capacity for hydrogen bond formation. By tuning the hydrogen bond formation between CNFs, tannic acid, and polyvinylpyrrolidone, CNFs with different surface hydrophilicity were achieved. The modified CNFs can assemble into strong and tough composites owing to the hydrogen bond network in the system. Modified CNFs demonstrated 76% higher tensile strength and 100% higher toughness than those of unmodified CNFs, reaching 162 MPa and 12.7 MJ/m3, respectively. This study provides a new water-based modification strategy for the nanocellulose, leading the way toward producing strong nanocellulose composites via noncovalent interaction.