The electronic absorption spectra of more than 20 crude oils and asphaltenes are examined. The spectral location of the electronic absorption edge varies over a wide range, from the near-infrared for heavy oils and asphaltenes to the near-UV for gas condensates. The functional form of the electronic absorption edge for all crude oils (measured) is characteristic of the “Urbach tail,” a phenomenology which describes electronic absorption edges in wide-ranging materials. The crude oils all show similar Urbach widths, which are significantly larger than those generally found for various materials but are similar to those previously reported for asphaltenes. Monotonically increasing absorption at higher photon energy continues for all crude oils until the spectral region is reached where single-ring aromatics dominate absorption. However, the rate of increasing absorption at higher energies moderates, thereby deviating from the Urbach behavior. Fluorescence emission spectra exhibit small red shifts from the excitation wavelength and small fluorescence peak widths in the Urbach regions of different crude oils, but show large red shifts and large peak widths in spectral regions which deviate from the Urbach behavior. This observation implies that the Urbach spectral region is dominated by lowest-energy electronic absorption of corresponding chromophores. Thus, the Urbach tail gives a direct measure of the population distribution of chromophores in crude oils. Implied population distributions are consistent with thermally activated growth of large chromophores from small ones.