4-Nitrobenzaldehyde is the synthetic raw material and an important photodegradation product of chloramphenicol. With a structural “alert” of human genotoxic potential and reported mutagenicity, this compound should be controlled in drug substances as a potential genotoxic impurity. However, current analysis methods require complex pre-treatment processes and/or lack sufficient specificity and sensitivity. Nitrophenylhydrazine is a common carbonyl derivatization reagent used to determine the residual aromatic aldehydes in drug samples. In the present study, we report an unexpected advantage of 3-nitrophenylhydrazine hydrochloride as a derivatization reagent in the derivatization high-performance liquid chromatography-ultraviolet detection method to determine 4-nitrobenzaldehyde in chloramphenicol samples. Compared with other nitro-substituted phenylhydrazines, 3-nitrophenylhydrazine hydrochloride can minimize drug matrix and derivatization reagent interferences, since the maximum absorption wavelength of its derivative is significantly red-shifted to 397 nm. The derivatization conditions have been optimized in terms of reaction efficiency, including reaction temperature, time, and diluting solvent, through a design of experiments. As a result, after reaction with 500 μg mL−1 of 3-nitrophenylhydrazine hydrochloride in acetonitrile-water (70:30, v/v) at 60 °C for 30 min, the developed HPLC method could be used to determine 4-nitrobenzaldehyde with a limit of detection of 0.009 μg mL−1. The method was then validated and applied for the determination of residual 4-nitrobenzaldehyde in chloramphenicol and its eye-drop samples.