While the properties of biochar are closely related to its functional groups, it is unclear under what conditions biochar develops its properties. In this study, two-dimensional (2D) 13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) correlation spectroscopy was for the first time applied to investigate the development of functional groups and establish their relationship with biochar properties. The results showed that the agricultural biomass carbonized to biochars was a dehydroxylation/dehydrogenation and aromatization process, mainly involving the cleavage of O-alkylated carbons and anomeric O-C-O carbons in addition to the production of fused-ring aromatic structures and aromatic C-O groups. With increasing charring temperature, the mass cleavage of O-alkylated groups and anomeric O-C-O carbons occurred prior to the production of fused-ring aromatic structures. The regression analysis between functional groups and biochar properties (pH and electrical conductivity) further demonstrated that the pH and electrical conductivity of rice straw derived biochars were mainly determined by fused-ring aromatic structures and anomeric O-C-O carbons, but the pH of rice bran derived biochars was determined by both fused-ring aromatic structures and aliphatic O-alkylated (HCOH) carbons. In summary, this work suggests a novel tool for characterising the development of functional groups in biochars.