Although Rheinau has been populated since the Celtic era, its recorded history does not begin before the establishment of the monastery towards the end of the 8th century. For centuries, the monastery island and its library were renowned for their cultural importance. The abbey reached its peak in the 18th century, when the church was sumptuously renovated in Baroque style and the two towers, visible from afar, were added.

In 1803, the municipality of Rheinau became part of the Canton of Zurich.  The liberal restructuring of the canton led to the gradual end of the monastery. Consequently, in 1862 the Cantonal Council decided to finally close it. However, just a few years later, the canton established a mental health center in the complex. The buildings were adapted and extended to fit their new purpose. However, at the end of the year 2000, the Psychiatric University Hospital moved out of the monastery complex.

In 2014 the Musikinsel was opened in the former monastery.