The adsorption of sulfur compounds from petroleum refinery wastewater on a chemically modified activated carbon (MAC) was investigated. The modification technique (nitric acid, hydrogen peroxide and thermal modification) enhanced the removal capacity of carbon and therefore decreases cost-effective removal of sulfide from refinery wastewater. Adsorption equilibrium and kinetics data were determined for sulfur removal from real refinery wastewater. The data were evaluated according to several adsorption isotherm and kinetics models. The Freundlich isotherm fitted well with the equilibrium data of sulfur on different adsorbents, whereas the kinetics data were best fitted by the pseudo-second-order model. Insights of sulfide removal mechanisms indicated that the sorption was controlled through the intraparticle diffusion mechanism with a significant contribution of film diffusion. The MAC adsorbent was found to have an effective removal capacity of approximately 2.5 times that of non-modified carbon. Using different MAC, sulfides were eliminated with a removal capacity of 52 mg g−1. Therefore, MAC can be utilized as an effective and less expensive adsorbent for the reduction of sulfur in refinery wastewater.