Intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) are a unique class of proteins that have no stable native structure, a feature that allows them to adopt a wide variety of extended and compact conformations that facilitate a large number of vital physiological functions. One of the most well-known IDPs is the microtubule-associated tau protein, which regulates microtubule growth in the nervous system. However, dysfunctions in tau can lead to tau oligomerization, fibril formation, and neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer's disease. Using a combination of simulations and experiments, we explore the role of osmolytes in regulating the conformation and aggregation propensities of the R2/wt peptide, a fragment of tau containing the aggregating paired helical filament (PHF6*). We show that the osmolytes urea and trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) shift the population of IDP monomer structures, but that no new conformational ensembles emerge. Although urea halts aggregation, TMAO promotes the formation of compact oligomers (including helical oligomers) through a newly proposed mechanism of redistribution of water around the perimeter of the peptide. We put forth a "superposition of ensembles" hypothesis to rationalize the mechanism by which IDP structure and aggregation is regulated in the cell.